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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Street race in Vietnam could lead Formula One’s Asia expansion

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TOKYO (AP) — Formula One is expected to add more races in Asia, including a street circuit in the capital of Vietnam, a country with little auto racing history that is on the verge of getting a marquee event.

“We think Hanoi could come on in the next couple of years, and we’re working with the Hanoi government to that end,” Sean Bratches, Formula One’s managing director of commercial operations, told the Associated Press.

There is even speculation it could be on the schedule next season, which Bratches rebuffed.

Vietnam would join countries like Azerbaijan, Russia and Bahrain, which have Grand Prix races, little history in the sport, and authoritarian governments with deep pockets that serve F1 as it tries to expand into new markets.

“This (Hanoi) is a street race where we can go downtown, where we can activate a large fan base,” Bratches said. “And you have extraordinary iconography from a television standpoint.”

A second race in China is also likely and would join Shanghai on the F1 calendar. Bratches said deciding where to stage the GP will “be left to local Chinese partners” – Beijing is a strong candidate.

Bratches runs the commercial side of Formula One, which was acquired last year by U.S.-based Liberty Media from long-time operator Bernie Ecclestone.

Formula One’s long-term goal is to have 24-25 races – up from the present 21 – and arrange them in three geographical segments: Asia, Europe and the Americas. Bratches said the Europe-based races would stay in middle of the calendar, with Asia or the Americas opening or ending the season.

He said their positioning had not been decided, and getting this done will be slowed by current contracts that mandate specific places on the calendar for several races. This means eventually that all the races in Asia would be run together, as would races in Europe and the Americas.

The F1 schedule is now an inefficient jumble, allowing Bratches to take a good-natured poke at how the sport was run under Ecclestone.

“We’ve acquired an undermanaged asset that’s 67-years-old, but effectively a start-up,” Bratches said.

Early-season races in Australia and China this year were conducted either side of a trip to Bahrain in the Middle East. Late in the season Formula One returns to Asia with races in Japan and Singapore.

The Canadian GP this season is run in the middle of the European swing, separated by four months from the other races in the Americas – the United States, Mexico and Brazil. These three are followed by the season-ending race in Abu Dhabi, which means another trip across the globe.

“With the right economics, with the right structure and cadence of events across territories, 24 or 25 is probably where we’d like to be from a longer-term standpoint,” Bratches said.

Big changes are not likely to happen until the 2020 season ends. This is when many current rules and contracts expire as F1’s new owners try to redistribute some income to allow smaller teams to compete.

“There’s more interest than we have capacity in the schedule,” Bratches said, firing off Berlin, Paris or London as potentially attractive venues. “We want to be very selective.”

“Those cites from an economic impact standpoint would find us value, as do others around the world,” Bratches added. “It’s very important for us as we move forward to go to locations that are a credit to the Formula One brand.”

An expanded schedule would have to be approved by the teams, which will be stretched by the travel and the wear-and-tear on their crews. The burden will fall on the smaller teams, which have significantly smaller revenue compared with Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull.

Bratches also envisions another race in the U.S., joining the United States Grand Prix held annually in Austin, Texas. A street race in Miami is a strong candidate, as are possible venues like Las Vegas or New York.

“We see the United States and China as countries that could support two races,” he said.

Liberty Media has reported Formula One’s total annual revenue at $1.8 billion, generated by fees paid by promoters, broadcast rights, advertising and sponsorship. Race promotion fees also tend to be higher in Asia, which makes the area attractive – along with a largely untapped fan base.

In a four-year cycle, F1 generates more revenue than FIFA or the International Olympic Committee, which rely almost entirely on one-time showcase events.

Reports suggest Vietnamese promoters may pay between $50-60 million annually as a race fee, with those fees paid by the government. Bratches said 19 of 21 Formula One races are supported by government payments.

“The race promotion fee being derived from the government … is a model that has worked historically,” Bratches said.