NASCAR’s “Troops to the Track” program celebrates 5-year anniversary

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Here’s a good story heading into the July 4 holiday next week, as the NASCAR Troops to the Track program celebrates its five-year anniversary.

The program sees NASCAR and the Armed Forces Foundation created a year-round recreational group therapy program that honors service men and women, veterans and military families at races throughout the country. It’s traditionally been done at 20 or more NASCAR races each year.

The program has quickly become one of NASCAR’s signature initiatives, where thousands of troops from local military installations across the country are treated to customized VIP experiences which include garage tours, driver meet-and-greets and recognition during the drivers’ meeting, among many other special-access activities.

Last week at Sonoma, the program announced Bank of America, the official bank of NASCAR, as the presenting sponsor of Troops to the Track, and NASCAR recognized the Troops to the Track program in a pre-race ceremony.

“NASCAR has a long tradition of supporting our nation’s military and we are honored by the presence of the men and women who serve our country and their families at our races,” said Brent Dewar, NASCAR chief operating officer. “Through the collective support of the Armed Forces Foundation and Bank of America, we are proud to say that the initiative will expand to 27 races this season, the most since the program began five years ago.”

Added Patricia Driscoll, President of the Armed Forces Foundation: “Troops to the Track presented by Bank of America showcases NASCAR’s commitment to our nation’s military and we are proud of our joint effort the past five years to serve the military. Here at the Armed Forces Foundation, we constantly strive to ‘serve those who serve,’ and with the support from NASCAR and Bank of America, we will be able to provide more opportunities for service members and their families around the country to get away from the stresses of injuries and deployments while enjoying the patriotism of the NASCAR community.”

Driscoll and AFF have been in the news for more good reasons this year, as Kurt Busch’s run at “The Double” of 1,100 miles in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day Weekend was also done in support of the troops.

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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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.