Jacob Kupferman | Getty Images
Jacob Kupferman | Getty Images

Denny Hamlin helps kick off Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 2022 Mission 600

CONCORD, N.C. — Earlier this week, Coca-Cola Racing Family driver and team owner Denny Hamlin met via zoom with troops from U.S. Army Central and the U.S. Army 163rd Cavalry Regiment from Camp Buehring, Kuwait, as Charlotte Motor Speedway kicked off its 2022 Mission 600. As a prelude to the 63rd running of the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day Weekend, Mission 600 is designed to honor the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces by pairing drivers with military bases to educate the NASCAR community about the day-to-day lives of the men and women who serve.

Separated by more than 6,800 miles, Hamlin and the troops found plenty of common ground during their hour-long conversation, which covered topics ranging from leadership and teamwork to training regimes and the differences in shift patterns between a military tank and Next Gen race car.

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Hamlin was even given a personal tour of the inner workings of an M1A1 Abrams tank and introduced to each member of the tank’s four-person crew, who talked through their respective roles and responsibilities as commander, gunner, loader and driver.

“When they get out there, they know what they’re doing,” said SSG Thomas Moore. “But it doesn’t happen unless we do have that leadership, we have that capability. Like the captain was saying about being on the battlefield, being coordinated, especially with the medical crews, the retrieval crews, that’s just like your pit crew. We have those roles that are ready to go at a moment’s notice.”

Following the tour, members of the unit showered Hamlin — a 17-year NASCAR driver and more recently co-owner of 23XI Racing — with questions about balancing his dual roles as driver and owner, how he stays in shape to handle the rigors of a 130-degree race car and who some of his mentors were coming up through the racing ranks.

“What the normal person would not be able to do inside of our cars, deal with the heat,” Hamlin said. “Maybe you guys, because it does not look cool inside those tanks. But you know, it’s 130 to 140 (degrees) in the car usually. And we’re in there for four hours and there’s not AC blowing or anything like that.”

“About the 130-degrees in the car, that’s kind of what it is outside here,” Moore joked.

Hamlin’s virtual visit is the first of six engagements that are planned for the 2022 Mission 600 campaign. In the coming weeks, fellow Coca-Cola Racing drivers Daniel Suarez and Austin Dillon are scheduled to visit Coast Guard Station Wrightsville Beach and Fort Bragg, respectively, while Joey Logano is expected to visit virtually with an overseas U.S. Air Force unit. Additionally, Kurt Busch will make a trip to Camp Lejeune and Kyle Larson — the defending Coca-Cola 600 winner — will visit Arlington National Cemetery.

“The connection of our military and our driving community and fans really embodies what the Coca-Cola 600 is all about,” said Greg Walter, executive vice president and general manager at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “One of the wonderful things about our sport is the sense of patriotism that our fans have, that our athletes like Denny have — a true appreciation for what our servicemen and women do each and every day. What Mission 600 does is bring those two worlds together.”