NASCAR Salutes for Coca-Cola 600

by Justin Nguyen

Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 is the longest race on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule, but its date also has special meaning: it is held the day before Memorial Day, a federal holiday honoring American servicemen and women who died on duty. To commemorate the day, the NASCAR Salutes program – officially named the NASCAR Salutes Refreshed by Coca-Cola organized various military-related activities for fans, veterans, and drivers, while teams have unveiled patriotic paint schemes.

“This weekend is important to the Coca-Cola system,” Coca-Cola Company Vice President, Marketing Assets and Activation, John Mount stated. “We are thrilled to partner with NASCAR and the NASCAR Salutes platform in which we will honor our Heroes, get troops to the track and remember our fallen military members.”

During the week, drivers Kurt Busch and Parker Kligerman visited Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. The two drivers used a virtual reality free-fall simulator to experience the feeling of being paratroopers, followed by outdoor field training.

“There are a lot of times in the military where you volunteer for something you don’t even know what you’re getting into,” Busch said while talking to Marines on the base. “But you do it because it comes from within your heart. To be able to just say thank you is why I’m here.”

Patriotic schemes and tributes

Credit: Sarah Crabill/Getty Images

A tradition dating back to 2015, the 40 cars entered for the 600 will adorn the names of fallen servicemen on the windshield. Furthermore, the pace cars, grand marshal and track vehicles will also feature the names. The two pace cars will have Air Force Captain Mark Weber and Marine Corps Staff Sergeant (Sgt.) Joshua M. Snowden; the four grand marshal vehicles will have Marines in Staff Sgt. William “Billy” Kundrat, Sgt. Dietrich Schmieman, Sgt. Talon Leach, and Sgt. Chad Elliott Jenson; the five track trucks will have Marine Corporal (Cpl.) Daniel Baldassare, Army Specialist (Spc.) Joshua Scott Piotrowski, Air Force Senior Airman Bryce K. Powers, Navy Lieutenant (Lt.) J. Wesley Van Dorn, and Coast Guard Damage Controlman 3rd Class Nathan Bruckenthal. The NASCAR Xfinity Series race on Saturday will also have special windshield banners.

For certain drivers, the veteran listed has a connection to them or their team: for example, Brad Keselowski‘s car will feature the name of  Gunnery Sergeant Chris Eckard, a childhood friend of Keselowski’s chassis fabricator Casey Mahoney; Eckward was killed in action while in Afghanistan in 2010.

“This program has existed here for a number of years in NASCAR for the Coke 600 where we get to honor the fallen soldiers,” Keselowski commented. Keselowski, whose family has military ties, regularly celebrates wins with the American flag and has said that he would have enlisted had a career in racing not panned out. “But it means more to us and it just hits a little bit harder when there’s a personal connection and the personal connection inside Team Penske with family and friends runs deep for that family.”

Multiple drivers have also switched their paint schemes to patriotic themes for the 600. Keselowski, Austin DillonMatt KensethChase ElliottRicky Stenhouse Jr.Kyle BuschWilliam ByronRyan NewmanKyle LarsonJimmie JohnsonMartin Truex Jr., and Alex Bowman will all race liveries painted with patterns of the American flag or in red, white, and blue. Kasey Kahne and Corey LaJoie‘s cars are both military-themed, while Jeffrey Earnhardt‘s #55 will feature the names of 617 fallen veterans on the hood. In the Xfinity Series, Ryan Reed will also drive a red, white, and blue scheme.

Honored Veterans

NumberDriverStartHonored VeteranBranchRank
00Landon Cassill35Osbrany Montes De OcaMarinesLance Corporal
1Jamie McMurray7Scott SatherAir ForceStaff Sergeant
2Brad Keselowski5Gunnery Sgt. Chris EckardMarinesGunnery Sergeant
3Austin Dillon12William Ryan OwensNavySenior Chief Special Warfare Operator
4Kevin Harvick39Patrick AdleMarinesLance Corporal
6Matt Kenseth17Jonathon HunterArmySergeant
7J.J. Yeley40Thomas J. DudleyMarinesStaff Sergeant
9Chase Elliott22John Chester RobertsonMarinesCorporal
10Aric Almirola9Aaron ButlerArmyStaff Sergeant
11Denny Hamlin3Jonathan K. DozierArmySergeant First Class
12Ryan Blaney8Ronald A. KubikArmySergeant
13Ty Dillon20Charlie AnthonyArmyPrivate First Class
14Clint Bowyer28Alan BurgessArmySpecialist
15Ross Chastain25Allen R. McKenna Jr.ArmyStaff Sergeant
17Ricky Stenhouse Jr.13John ChapmanAir ForceTechnical Sergeant
18Kyle Busch1Eric TothArmySergeant
19Daniel Suárez10Cody A. PutmanArmyCorporal
20Erik Jones4Nicholas RoushArmyCorporal
21Paul Menard14Leevi BarnardArmyFirst Lieutenant
22Joey Logano2Javier Ortiz RiveraMarinesStaff Sergeant
23Gray Gaulding34Christopher EbertMarinesCorporal
24William Byron21Michael DonahueArmyMajor
31Ryan Newman6Ryan LohreyNavyHospital Corpsman First Class
32Matt DiBenedetto31Kyle ComfortArmyCaptain
34Michael McDowell29Charles Palmer IIMarinesCorporal
37Chris Buescher18Robert F. WhiteArmyStaff Sergeant
38David Ragan19Ricky L. CrockettArmySergeant First Class
41Kurt Busch16Jeremiah "Jay" HolmesArmySergeant
42Kyle Larson11Kimberly HamptonArmyCaptain
43Darrell Wallace Jr.24Scott DuffmanAir ForceTechnical Sergeant
47A.J. Allmendinger30Darrell SchumannMarinesLance Corporal
48Jimmie Johnson23Francis “Frankie” Phillips IVArmyStaff Sergeant
51B.J. McLeod38Davy WeaverArmyMaster Sergeant
55Jeffrey Earnhardt37Samuel GriffithMarinesMajor
66Timmy Hill36Elijah RaoArmySergeant
72Corey LaJoie33David StewartMarinesStaff Sergeant
78Martin Truex Jr.15Arlen Del RichardsonArmyFirst Lieutenant
88Alex Bowman27Nick RozanskiArmyCaptain
95Kasey Kahne26Rudy AcostaArmySpecialist
96Parker Kligerman32Nic O'BrienMarinesLance Corporal

600 Miles of Remembrance

During the week, NASCAR partnered with Honor and Remember, Inc. to place American flags throughout the garage, while Goodyear redesigned its Eagle tires, replacing the word with “Support Our Troops”. To wrap up the weekend, NASCAR Salutes’ race day will be dubbed the “600 Miles of Remembrance”. The fifth year of the program’s promotion, Coca-Cola will bring in 5,000 veterans to watch the race. Coca-Cola will also introduce the Coca-Cola Kitchen to allow servicemen attending to enjoy food.

Prior to the 2017 race, the traditional invocation, national anthem, and flyover were joined by a performance of “Amazing Grace” and a 21-gun salute. Fans were given “Rise to Honor” cards to write the names of veterans close to them, which were raised during pace laps. The same gestures will likely continue for 2018.

During the pre-race show, broadcaster Fox will air the names of every veteran who was killed in the last year as part of its Fox Sports Remembers segment. A similar tribute show will also be held earlier in the day on SiriusXM radio.

The race will take place on Sunday afternoon, capping off one of the greatest days in racing with Formula One‘s Monaco Grand Prix and the Verizon IndyCar Series‘ Indianapolis 500 preceding the 600. Kyle Busch will start on the pole.

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