CHARLOTTE, N.C. – There were no mentions – or thoughts – of any cutbacks by the military and its presence in NASCAR Sunday at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The sport was awash in patriotic red, white and blue in an impressive tribute to the country’s warriors, past and present.
The pre-race show lasted 90 minutes. Included in the show were the appearances of three Medal of Honor recipients, a 21-gun salute by seven Howitzers, 600 soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division passing through the grandstands, parachuting soldiers, a flyover by a B-52 Stratofortress bomber and the U.S. Marines band playing the songs that identify all five branches of the armed forces.
Less than two weeks after a House appropriations committee voted to eliminate $80 million in sports sponsorships from the military budget, the racing community clearly embraced the show with several loud ovations.
The program was created several months ago, but speedway officials decided last week to unfurl a flag as big as a football field in front of the main grandstands during the National Anthem. The speedway also had a 70-by-200 flag draped across 3,400 seats in the backstretch grandstands.
The pre-race festivities also featured an hour-long concert by Darius Rucker, while Tim McGraw introduced the top-10 starters for the race.
The theme, however, was patriotic.
Several drivers had patriotic paint schemes. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (National Guard), Ryan Newman (U.S. Army) and Aric Almirola (U.S. Air Force) all had sponsorships from the military.
“We’re running a special paint scheme this weekend. A lot of drivers will be involved in doing programs like that,” Earnhardt said. “The sport itself does a great job of acknowledging and recognizing the military, and its involvement in our sport has always been pretty huge.”
Newman said his relationship with the Army goes deeper than a sponsorship on his car.
“From my stand point I’m proud to represent them, I’m proud to do what we are doing and have the relationship and to represent the soldiers,” he said. “It’s special. It’s a special sponsorship for us. I think it is a nice outlet for the soldiers to be able to come and enjoy what we do. There is a bunch of them that are race fans, too.
“Obviously, some senators aren’t, but that is OK.”