ARLINGTON, Va. – Wednesday, as a prelude to its Memorial Day weekend salute to the U.S. Armed Forces, Charlotte Motor Speedway hosted defending Coca-Cola 600 winner Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing President Dave Alpern and Coca-Cola executives Bea Perez and Frank Harrison for a poignant visit to Arlington National Cemetery. Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 400,000 servicemen and women and their families from every major United States conflict since the American Revolution.
Hamlin and Alpern joined Speedway Motorsports President and CEO Marcus Smith and Charlotte Motor Speedway Executive Vice President and General Manager Greg Walter in laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, continuing an annual tradition for the defending Coca-Cola 600 race winner to kick off Military Appreciation Month each May in Arlington, Virginia.
“It’s a very prestigious honor in my mind,” said Hamlin of visiting Arlington National Cemetery and laying a wreath. “For the Department of Defense, the Coca-Cola 600 is their biggest event honoring fallen soldiers. That’s a big deal. It’s certainly an honor that I don’t take lightly.
“I’ve been part of the Coca-Cola Memorial weekend for 18 years now in the Cup Series. It’s so different because you see soldiers that are living there and still serving, but I haven’t gotten to see in person where the fallen soldiers actually go. To be here at Arlington Cemetery is certainly moving and makes you really appreciate what Memorial Day weekend is all about.”
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In addition to the wreath-laying, the group enjoyed a private viewing of artifacts that paint the rich history of Arlington National Cemetery in the Memorial Amphitheater Display Room and watched a changing-of-the-guard ceremony. At the iconic tomb, which marked its centennial anniversary in 2021, members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as the Old Guard, stand watch 24 hours a day, a tradition that began in 1948. Following the visit to Arlington National Cemetery, the dignitaries visited the Pentagon and met Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks.
“This was a very special day,” said Perez, SVP and chief communications, sustainability & strategic partnerships officer for The Coca-Cola Company. “The Coca-Cola 600 is during Memorial Day weekend, which is really about honoring our military who fight for our freedoms every single day here in our own country and around the world. For everything they do, we just want to thank them, and this was an incredible way to honor them.”
“We are just so thankful for what these men and women have done for our country and we want to honor them in any way we can,” said Harrison, Coca-Cola Consolidated’s CEO. “We’ll have about 40 of these Gold Star families; we’ll be renovating some homes and we just excited to be able to honor them at the Coca-Cola 600.”
Each Memorial Day weekend, Charlotte Motor Speedway pays tribute to those men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice during a moving Coca-Cola 600 pre-race show that includes representation from all six branches of the military. In addition to aerial and ground demonstrations, the pre-race salute features hundreds of members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
“Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Coca-Cola 600, Memorial Day weekend – when you think about that, you think about patriotism; you think about America, freedom and all the wonderful things that we can celebrate as Americas because of our military,” said Smith. “Coming here to Arlington to honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice is something I look forward to. It never ceases to amaze me how touching it is for us to spend a few moments here to think about the courage, bravery and sacrifice that so many have made for all of us.”
In recent years, the speedway’s salute has expanded to include Mission 600, a campaign pairing NASCAR drivers with military bases designed to educate the NASCAR community about the day-to-day lives of the men and women who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. To date in 2023 on behalf of the Coca-Cola Racing Family of drivers, Austin Dillon visited Fort Bragg to train alongside members from the 82nd Airborne Division and Daniel Suárez virtually met members of Area Support Group – Jordan in the Middle East. Additional Mission 600 visits in the coming weeks leading up to the May 28 Coca-Cola 600 will include Coca-Cola Racing Family driver Joey Logano traveling to Naval Station Norfolk and Aric Almirola visiting Marines at Camp Lejeune.
Tickets are still available for the May 26-28 Coca-Cola 600 weekend, with three-day packages starting at $99. Weekend tickets for children ages 12 and under are just $10. Fans can purchase tickets online at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com or by calling the ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS (3267). Admission to Circle K Speed Street concerts by AC/DC tribute band Dirty Deeds (Friday) and Jake Owen (Saturday) is free with any race ticket. Sunday’s pre-race concert by The Doobie Brothers is free with purchase of a Coca-Cola 600 race ticket.