NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick signs autographs for troops at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Tuesday, shortly after the track announced the activities of its annual tradition of honoring members of the military prior to the start of the Coca-Cola 600 on May 25. (Photo courtesy Charlotte Motor Speedway)

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

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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.

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Lowdon, Booth bid farewell to Manor in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 28:  Manor Marussia Team Principal John Booth and Manor Marussia President and Sporting Director Graeme Lowdon arrive in the paddock before final practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 28, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sporting director Graeme Lowdon and team principal John Booth both bid emotional farewells to Manor Marussia Formula 1 Team in Abu Dhabi on Sunday after resigning from their roles last month.

Lowdon and Booth were instrumental in the formation of Virgin Racing in 2010, which ultimately evolved to become Marussia F1 Team.

When Marussia collapsed financially in 2014, Lowdon and Booth managed to keep the team going and revive it as Manor for the new season, securing its place on the grid.

However, following disagreements with team owner Stephen Fitzpatrick over the future of the team, both Lowdon and Booth tendered their resignations, with today’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix marking the final race in their roles.

“This is of course my final race with the Manor Marussia F1 Team,” Booth said.

“At a time like this, there is so much to say but I think the single biggest sentiment I will take away is incredible pride at just how much we punched above our weight for such a small team.

“It was a greater challenge than we ever anticipated, but six years on we are still here fighting.

“I wish the team every success in the future and I will be following their progress with a great deal of satisfaction at what we created together.”

Lowdon took to Twitter to thank the Manor team, but left the door on F1 open by only saying goodbye ‘for now’.

Manor’s final race of the year ended with another double finish as Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi finished 18th and 19th respectively. After the race, both drivers paid tribute to their outgoing bosses.

“I would like to thank everyone in the team for their support, but in particular John and Graeme, who we say goodbye to here today,” Stevens said.

Merhi added: “I would like to thank the whole team, not only for this opportunity but for the hard work throughout the season. We’ve had some difficult times, but I am very proud of us.

“My thanks also to John and Graeme and I wish them well for the future. I am sure we have not seen the last of them!”

Alonso: I will be racing in 2016, “that’s 100%”

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 28:  Fernando Alonso of Spain and McLaren Honda arrives in the paddock before final practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 28, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Fernando Alonso has once again rejected speculation claiming he could take a sabbatical from Formula 1 in 2016, telling NBCSN that he will be racing next year.

Alonso saw a miserable first year back at McLaren come to a disappointing end in Abu Dhabi on Sunday as he finished 17th, two laps down on race winner Nico Rosberg.

Deficiencies with the Honda power unit used by McLaren have blighted Alonso’s efforts all season long, prompting a number of outbursts that continued in Abu Dhabi when he threatened to retire the car.

The Spaniard finished the season with just 11 points to his name, marking his worst F1 campaign since his debut year with Minardi back in 2001.

Earlier in the race weekend, it was suggested that Alonso could take a year out of F1 if McLaren and Honda were unable to provide him a competitive car for next year.

Alonso denied such speculation on Saturday, and confirmed to NBCSN after the race on Sunday that he would definitely be racing in 2016.

“No, I will be racing. That’s 100%,” Alonso said when asked if he would be taking a sabbatical.

“If I had to choose a sabbatical, I would choose this [year]! I was here, I was pushing, I was giving my maximum, and I will always do.”

Alonso spent the entirety of his race in Abu Dhabi alone at the back of the field after a first lap collision with Pastor Maldonado and a penalty for his part in it.

“Being last with no battles all the race, it was pretty much alone,” Alonso said.

“We say always that there are some test races for us, but today it was more than ever a test because I was alone all the race.

“Hopefully we got some useful information for winter to develop the car but it was a very difficult race from the start.”

F1 Paddock Pass: Abu Dhabi GP post-race (VIDEO)

xxxx during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 29, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
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The final round of the 2015 Formula 1 season in Abu Dhabi may not have had a great deal riding on it with both championships already decided, but with the foundations already being laid for the new year, there were a number of storylines running throughout an eventual race at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Nico Rosberg managed to see off a late challenge from Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to pick up his sixth win of the year and, for the first time in his F1 career, a third in a row.

The German driver controlled proceedings from start to finish, while Hamilton was forced to settle for P2 once again ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.

For the final time in 2015, Will Buxton brings you all of the news, interviews and insight following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in the latest edition of Paddock Pass.

Grosjean delighted to sign off from Lotus with points

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 29:  Romain Grosjean of France and Lotus is pushed onto the grid by his team before the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 29, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Romain Grosjean was delighted to end his long-running association with Lotus by picking up two points for ninth place in Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Grosjean started back in 19th place after being hit with a gearbox penalty on Sunday morning, but managed to fight his way through the order to stand on the brink of the top ten in the closing stages.

With fresher tires, the Frenchman battled past Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat to move up into ninth place, securing two points for Lotus in his final grand prix for the team.

The result also ensured that Grosjean finished the year 11th in the Formula 1 drivers’ championship ahead of his move to Haas F1 Team for 2016.

“It’s been an emotional journey for me and I’m so happy to be able to reward everyone at Enstone with points in my final race for the team,” Grosjean said.

“I had to push all the way and it wasn’t always plain sailing as there was a lot to manage on the car. The calls from the pit wall were great and my pit stops were fantastic.

“I owe a lot to this team and it really feels like a family to me. I hope to be back one day in the future. This has been the best season of my career.”

Teammate Pastor Maldonado’s race ended at the first corner after he was crashed into by Fernando Alonso, leaving him with terminal suspension damage.

“It’s sad to end the race in the first corner because we were looking good for the race,” Maldonado said. “Today we had a good strategy to go with our better race pace, but anyway this is racing and it can happen.

“I didn’t see the contact I just felt it in the back of the car from Fernando. I tried to restart but then I saw the suspension damage. Imagine if that incident had been the other way round, it would’ve been big news then!”