Charlotte Motor Speedway to host traditional star-spangled salute to U.S. troops prior to Coca-Cola 600

1 Comment

In what has been a more than three-decade Memorial Day weekend tradition, Charlotte Motor Speedway will once again honor America’s fighting men and women in one of its biggest gala pre-race ceremonies ever prior to the 55th running of the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday, May 25.

The Salute to the Troops has become one of the most anticipated and emotional tributes in motorsports, including a pizza party for several thousand troops and their families, special presentations and events and a unique helicopter flyover.

This year’s events include honoring winners of the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor for an act of valor that a soldier can receive.

This year’s honorees are: U.S. Army veterans Col. Joe Marm, Command Sgt. Major Robert Patterson and Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morrison, who were all awarded the Medal of Honor for Actions during the Vietnam War, along with Staff Sgt. Ty Carter of the U.S. Army (former U.S. Marine Corps), who earned his Medal of Honor in the war in Afghanistan.

“Over the years, Charlotte Motor Speedway has set the standard when it comes to showing our support of the armed forces, and this year will be no different,” CMS president/general manager Marcus Smith said in a track media release. “We want to give all the men and women who have served in the past and who continue to fight for our freedom today a great big bear hug and let them know how much their service means to our country.”

Among this year’s other events:

* More than 30 busloads of troops and their families will be brought to the race. The buses will make a ceremonial parade lap around the 1.5-mile superspeedway before parking along the frontstretch, where troops will exit the buses and be cheered by more than 100,000 fans en route to the solders taking their seats in the grandstands for the race.

* Pit road will include a unique display of past and present military vehicles during pre-race festivities, including 15 vintage military vehicles on loan from the Veterans Service Corp. of South Carolina, as well as modern-day Humvees, troop carriers, a maintenance wrecker and a Navy SEAL Raptor from the North Carolina National Guard.

* Seven vintage airplanes will provide an aerial salute in the skies over the racetrack. For vintage plane fans, the fleet will include a SNJ 5, a C-45, a T-28 Alpha, a T-28 Bravo and a C-46, among others.

* In perhaps the most unique presentation of the command for drivers to start their engines, astronaut and NASA commander Steve Swanson will not only serve as grand marshal from outer space, but will also give the command to start engines from onboard the International Space Station.

* In the traditional flyover at the end of the National Anthem, this year’s race will feature four different types of military helicopters. Task Force Corsair, part of the 82nd Airborne Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade stationed at Ft. Bragg, N.C., will conduct a flyover featuring AH-64 Apache, UH-60 Black Hawk, CH-47 Chinook and OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters.

* One of the most patriotic and emotion-stirring traditions, the rollout of the football field-sized (300-by-150 feet) American flag on the frontstretch will be unfurled by 120 volunteers during the National Anthem.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

Getty Images
Leave a comment

If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.