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May 8, 2024

Mission 600: Joey Logano doubles down with 77th Fighter Squadron ‘Gamblers’

Joey Logano Shaw Air Force Base inside the cockpit of a jet for the 77th Fighter Squadron.
Credit: Charlotte Motor Speedway

SUMTER, S.C. — Two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano traded his fire suit for a flight suit as Mission 600 soared to new heights during a visit with the 77th Fighter Squadron “Gamblers” on Wednesday at Shaw Air Force Base.

Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Mission 600 campaign, which pairs drivers and regional military bases as a build up to the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day Weekend, provided the Coca-Cola Racing Family driver with an immersive day meeting aviators, soldiers and staff at the home to the 20th Fighter Wing, the U.S. Air Force’s largest combat F-16 wing.

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Alongside FOX Sports analyst Shannon Spake, Logano toured the base, learned its history and completed a series of safety trainings before getting fitted for a flight suit, G-suit and helmet. The nearly 90-minute training flight launched off the tarmac at more than 600 mph before executing a series of S-curves, loops, barrel rolls and simulated ground attacks. Logano and pilot Lt. Col. Daniel “Rage” Trueblood also experienced up to nine times the force of gravity during the flight and refueled mid-air. For his efforts throughout the engagement, Logano earned the call sign “Left Turn” from members of the Gamblers.

“Today has been incredible,” Logano said. “To get to meet the men and women who fight for our freedom is always an honor, but then when you get the chance to fly in an F-16, that’s just dream-come-true territory, for sure. Everyone thinks that because you can drive a race car you can fly in one of these things. No, you can’t. It’s incredible the amount of speed, how quick it is … to feel the acceleration it takes. We took off at 600 mph and then went straight up, really, really fast. I’m just trying not to pass out. My vision is narrowing up. He (pilot Rage Trueblood) is up there talking and looking around like it’s a regular ol’ Tuesday.

“To refuel, in mid-air, that was something out of the movies to me. Just to see a huge tanker up there, it was a huge aircraft. We just pulled up to it like you’re pulling up to the gas station.”

Following the training flight, Spake marshalled the plane back into its hanger before the VIPs visited more than 150 aviators, families and staff from the base.

“There are so many examples that are similar to NASCAR in a lot of ways … the discipline, the pursuit of perfection,” Logano told the group. “The biggest difference is that if something goes wrong for us, we just don’t finish the race. If something goes wrong for you guys, it’s a completely different level.”

For leadership at Shaw Air Force Base, having someone like Logano visit is great for morale, but also for highlighting what these men and women do in service to the Air Force.

“Our goal is showcasing what the men and women at Shaw do day in and day out to support our nation,” said Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Griste, the Command Chief of the 20th Fighter Wing. “Any time that we have a chance to showcase our mission, that goes into the living rooms of Americans — and sometimes across the world with social media. Any time we get the chance to put a celebrity in the jet, it opens up a whole different world for recruitment purposes to show what we do.”

At Charlotte Motor Speedway, Memorial Day Weekend provides the opportunity to pay tribute to the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces, particularly those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. With the support of the U.S. Department of Defense, the patriotic Coca-Cola 600 pre-race show includes representation from all six major branches of the military.

“So many times as a civilian, you get wrapped up in your own little world — just thinking about race cars all day long,” Logano said. “It’s very important for us to take a step back, and zoom out, and think about why we get to think about race cars all day long. It’s because of the men and women that fight for our freedom every day. That’s part of what Mission 600 is all about … to try to showcase what these guys do every day.

“When I think about what Charlotte Motor Speedway and Coca-Cola do for the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend at the Coca-Cola 600, it’s not really about the race. It’s really about that weekend, what it stands for and highlighting what these guys do. … Not only our military members, but also their families and the sacrifices they make.