Pace, NASCAR Honor Troops During Race in Charlotte
By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service
CHARLOTTE, N.C., May 28, 2007 Memorial Day is a time when troops remember the oath they took for their country and rededicate themselves to those who have gone before, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told servicemembers, drivers and fans here at NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 yesterday.
U.S. Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addresses the crowd at the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C., May 27, 2007. NASCAR invited Gen. Pace to drive the official pace car to pay tribute to the troops. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“Thank you for what you have done and what you are about to do for your country,” Marine Gen. Peter Pace told 6,000 soldiers and families from Fort Bragg, N.C., and Fort Campbell, Ky., before the race. “We simply couldn’t be doing this without you.”
Pace thanked the troops’ families for the sacrifices they also make for the country. He said that they are the ones who love the troops and stay behind praying for them while they are in harm’s way.
“We know that our families – spouses, kids, moms and dads – are the real strength behind our armed forces,” he said. “Families serve this nation as well as any of us in uniform.”
The general served as the race’s grand marshal and spoke to the crowd of 180,000 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway before making a ceremonial lap in the pace car to kick off the event.
“NASCAR has done a wonderful thing this weekend to reach out to the American public and to say thanks to the men and women of the armed forces,” Pace said. “It makes a huge difference to American servicemembers to know the American people value our service,” Pace said.
The teamwork is similar between NASCAR and the military, Pace said.
“I think that’s why there is such an affinity between NASCAR and the armed forces,” he noted.
“No one in the armed forces is successful without the men and women to their right and left,” he said. “It’s that way with NASCAR as well – drivers and crew members have to pull together to be successful.”
NASCAR and speedway officials dedicated the weekend’s races to the men and women of the armed forces by painting military logos and messages of support for the troops on eight Nextel Cup and two Busch series cars.
For yesterday’s race, many of the drivers took the opportunity to show their support for the troops. Dale Earnhardt Jr. covered his car with a military uniform’s desert camouflage pattern. Mark Martin drove a yellow and black Army car. Denny Hamlin represented the Marines. Bill Elliott paid tribute to the Air Force. Jimmie Johnson drove the “Power of Pride” Chevrolet. Race winner Casey Mears drove the National Guard/American Heroes car, and Jeff Gordon’s car had the Defense Department seal on the hood of his car.
Members of the 82nd Airborne Division Chorus, the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team and the U.S. Army Drill Team performed for cheering crowds. Army helicopters, including Apaches, Blackhawks and Kiowa Warriors, and Air Force F-22s performed flyovers brought the speedway to its feet.
“We have a largely patriotic fan base,” said Larry Deas, who is the Dupont racing team manager. “It is a natural fit for NASCAR to salute the military this weekend.”
Deas said that the crowd’s patriotism is evident when seeing the reverence shown during the playing of the National Anthem and the way race fans display the American flag on their cars, tents and clothing.
During the pre-race driver’s meeting, David Hoots, the managing event director for NASCAR, encouraged the drivers to emphasize the importance of the meaning behind the race to their crews.
“When you’re on the track with your team before the start of the race, remind your crew that we are here to honor those men and women who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice,” Hoots said. “It’s important to show the nation how much we appreciate these folks.”