The last Sunday in May is historically the greatest day of racing on the calendar every year. The Grand Prix of Monaco, the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 exhibit the best of their individual types of racing from sunrise to sunset barring weather difficulties. For the 500 and the 600 there is an added importance to the day, it is the day before Memorial Day and both events spend a good part of their pre-race ceremonies celebrating the military of the United States and the sacrifices that have been made over the years by the members of the armed services who paid the ultimate price to defend our freedom.
The Indianapolis 500 is probably where the practice of pre-race fly overs began. The race has taken place on Memorial Day (originally called Decoration Day) since it was first run in 1911 and once aircraft became a part of military arsenals they began appearing in the pre-race ceremonies. Since then they’ve been part of many NASCAR pre-race ceremonies as well. They always take place at the end of the National Anthem, although this year there was an additional fly over at the end of the race Indy 500 since this was the 100th anniversary of the first running. Another part of the pre-race for the 500 was hundreds of military personnel marching on the track. There was also the traditional gun salute to commemorate fallen cohorts, the playing of Taps, a speech by the Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army and a Congressional Medal of Honor winner as Honorary Starter.
Charlotte Motor Speedway also has a long history of celebrating the military of the United States and has put on an explosive pre-race ceremony before the 600 for years, starting with their reenactment of the invasion of Granada in the 1980s. This year was no exception with hundreds of military personnel on the track before the race, howitzers, helicopters and explosions all over the infield of the front straight before the race. Soldiers unfurled the giant American flag for the National Anthem and once again Medal of Honor winners had a pronounced presence in the pre-race activities.
As the drivers’ meeting took place before the Cup race on Sunday Robin Pemberton acknowledged all of the military in the building and the entire room stood and applauded. He then pointed out that there was a contingent of Navy Seals in the back room and the cheers and applause were even louder. NASCAR always has held a special place for the armed services and it is especially evident on Memorial Day weekend.
Once the races began, the military folks were everywhere at the track, in the pits, in the media center, in the stands and everywhere in between. For a short period of time they were able to take their minds off of their jobs and enjoy watching the drivers, teams and fans of NASCAR enjoying the freedom that the military has secured for them for the last 235 years. While the racing was enjoyable, the fans and competitors most certainly remembered the real reason for the weekend and took every opportunity to thank the men and women of the military for the sacrifices they make to secure our freedom.
Racing is a great sport and all fans who enjoy going to the races with little to no hassles can enjoy their favorite pastime thanks to their sacrifices for the free country we live in. The military goes about their business with little to no fanfare for most of the year but on Memorial Day they get more attention than most of the other days of the year. If you’re at a track or a parade or anywhere else during the Memorial Day weekend next year, or near military personnel any time during the year, take the time to shake their hand and thank them for the sacrifices they make every single day of the year. It gives you the freedom to live your life in the greatest country on earth.
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