After having to sit a year ago through this event that had no one in the stands, no one in the garage, and only one event of the day, it didn’t feel like what is normally termed the “Greatest Day in Motorsports.” It was Memorial Day weekend, so honoring those lost for our freedom still rang true, but we couldn’t honor them as in years past.
Charlotte was silent except for the sound of cars. There was no line of troops on the track, nor showcases of the heroics of their duties overseas.
The closest to hearing the traditional pre-race festivities was hearing Taps played on a screen. It just wasn’t the Charlotte weekend everyone recalls.
This year, things are completely different.
North Carolina lifted their restrictions on track capacity and gatherings, meaning the crowd that is coming to the track is going to be able to stand at full capacity. Indianapolis is the same way, although the infield will be empty with campers. But they will not have to worry about capacity and regulations, meaning the stands will be full and get to witness someone drink milk at the end of 200 laps.
After a year of not really being able to celebrate with others, this weekend’s festivities have a lot more meaning.
At the same time, we cannot forget the reason this weekend is here. I always make it known that my favorite track is Darlington, at this point it’s crystal clear in that. But, my favorite event of the season is the Coca-Cola 600. There is something about the mystique and the pageantry at this race that is unlike any on the circuit. The pride one feels when seeing a sea of soldiers come on the track, the helicopters dropping down to showcase some of the training exercises, some even singing some famous patriotic songs, from American Soldier to America the Beautiful.
And then, the tears begin to flow. As the cars roll onto the track, 600 miles of remembrance begins, with fallen soldiers names across the windshields.
Out on the track first comes the invocation, the bagpipes follow to perform Amazing Grace, and the waterworks really come into play. But, it’s when the seven soldiers walk out, rifles in hand, and on three occasions we hear, “Ready…Aim…Fire.” that the tears really start coming. It comes full force when the trumpet player steps out, with Taps coming through, that not one dry eye appears.
The National Anthem concludes the most amazing prerace ceremonies of the season, because this weekend is a solemn celebration of those that cannot be here.
This is the greatest day in motorsports, and unlike last year, it actually feels like it. It’s time to dust off a pair of phenomenal events, and always remember why we are able to watch these races, and enjoy being with those we care about. In the end, this weekend is about honoring the ones who had to be brought home in a box, and have a ceremony honoring their life. They sacrificed everything to ensure their family still has the freedom to do as they please.
This weekend is about those that made it to Arlington, instead of their homestead. They sacrificed their lives for that “Ragged Old Flag.” God bless America.