This past weekend in Charlotte, N.C., thousands of fans flocked to Charlotte Motor Speedway to celebrate the opening of summer and our nation’s military while remembering and honoring our fallen service members.
The United Service Organizations (USO), in partnership with NASCAR, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Coca-Cola, hosted more than 5,000 active military members at the Coca-Cola 600 to commemorate Memorial Day. The programming throughout the weekend reinforced and showcased the USO’s mission to strengthen service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country.
“It was an honor to represent the USO on race day along with USO tour veteran and Coca-Cola 600 Grand Marshal Robert Irvine during this Memorial Day weekend in my home state of North Carolina,” said Virginia Johnson, senior vice president of government relations and external affairs, USO. ”This important event, with its focus on Memorial Day, provides Americans an important reminder and opportunity to honor and reflect on those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice while connecting with those currently serving as well as their families and others who provide strong support to the military.”
Celebrity chef and ardent military and USO supporter Robert Irvine served as grand marshal for the race and gave the command to start engines following a patriotic pre-race Salute to the Troops featuring all five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.
“It was a true privilege to serve as this year’s grand marshal of the Coca-Cola 600,” Irvine said. “While I’m a big fan of NASCAR, this race is particularly important to me as it commemorates the sacrifices made by the men and women who have lost their lives in defense of our nation.”
As part of his grand marshal duties, Irvine met with service members and their families attending the race, and engaged with military chefs who had the opportunity to share their favorite summer recipes with Irvine. Coca-Cola Racing Family member Bubba Wallace joined in on the fun as he supported the Coca-Cola and Kroger red, white and BBQ platform and visited the Coke Kitchen on Saturday and served BBQ to service members and their families through the USO North Carolina chapter. Other notable visitors to the Coke Kitchen included racing team owner and former NFL head coach Joe Gibbs as well as Coca-Cola Racing family member Joey Logano.
Along with the festivities at the Coke Kitchen, NASCAR and the USO honored United States Armed Forces heroes and their families as part of NASCAR Salutes Refreshed by Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola is the presenting sponsor of NASCAR Salutes which culminates Independence Day weekend with the Coke Zero Sugar 400 on July 7 at Daytona International Speedway. The program commenced with “600 Miles of Remembrance” during Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600.
In tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice, all 40 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series™ cars displayed the name of a fallen service member on their car windshields during the race.
“Throughout our sport’s history, NASCAR has held the men and women who’ve served and continue to serve in the highest regard,” said Brent Dewar, presidnet, NASCAR. “Each year, NASCAR Salutes unites our entire industry to honor and celebrate these heroes, and to reflect on the sacrifices each has made for their country.”
CSCM(NAC/AW) Wes Tavares, Senior Enlisted Aide to the Vice Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, added, "What a weekend! From meeting NASCAR drivers to being in the pit with Coca-Cola driver Austin Dillon and witnessing Kyle Busch's celebration in the winners’ circle, it was truly a wonderful experience. What really made this race more special, was the fact it was during Memorial Day weekend as we honored, remembered and celebrated our brothers and sisters who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. Being a part of all of this could not make me more proud to serve in the world's greatest Navy. I can’t thank NASCAR, Coca-Cola and USO enough for their continued support and everything they do for our military and our families.”