There is never a time in NASCAR when everything stops.
The shops are always open, the crews are constantly working, and the drivers are always ready to race.
Not even during the offseason are things quiet, something is always happening in the NASCAR world.
When enjoying a race at the track it’s nothing but noise.
From fellow fans having the time of their lives, to the parties in and around the track, and of course the cars that everyone came to see.
NASCAR is constantly moving; silence and downtime are not an option. To be quiet and hear silence means you aren’t racing and something is wrong.
On May 26, 2009 NASCAR officials changed that.
The 50th running of the Coca-Cola 600 at the Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte, NC was scheduled for a Sunday afternoon. Rain however, pushed it to Monday morning, Memorial Day.
Always observed on the last Monday in May, Memorial Day is not about enjoying a three-day weekend while the season gets ready to turn to summer. Instead it’s a time to honor those that have served and died while serving the country.
On this day Bobby Allison gave the command to start engines, as the race finally got under way a little past noon on cloudy Monday.
After two yellow flags, and one red flag for more rain, there were 163 laps on the board when NASCAR officials threw another yellow flag.
This time it was for a different reason.
“We are under caution on our most solemn of holidays, Memorial Day. There is no crash, no blown engine, and no rain.
"NASCAR, in what I think is an extraordinary gesture, has elected to throw the caution flag so that as we come to the three o’clock hour—the time at which our president has asked all Americans to honor all of those who have served in the defense and protection of our country,” announced FOX broadcaster Mike Joy.
Three laps later, 166, when the clock struck 3:00 PM EDT fans rose from their seats and removed their hats.
Pit crew members removed their helmets and walked to the edge of their pit boxes to line pit road.
The cars came to the frontstretch, stopped, and then shut their growling engines off. Some drivers like Tony Stewart held mini flags out their windows as the flags hanging around the track were lowered to half-staff.
Soon the broadcasters stopped talking and for the first time everything and everyone in the NASCAR world was silent.
No roaring engines, no play-by-play, and no fan cheers.
Never had a moment captured so many. Stopping a sporting event, a NASCAR race no less, to honor men and woman that are bigger than the stars in the cars.
Many who were in the stands described the feeling as unbelievable, those viewing it on TV said seeing and being in that moment was breathtaking.
It was another sign that NASCAR has always kept the United States of America close to its heart.
The National Anthem is sung before the start of every race, Military members adore pit boxes and pit road, fans bring American flags to wave in the grandstands.
After the Sep. 11th attacks on New York in 2001, NASCAR cancelled the race scheduled for New Hampshire that weekend.
Instead they waited until Sep. 27th to once again go to work, this time at Dover, Del.
Cars were painted red, white, and blue, American flag’s plastered the hoods of many more, and as Dale Earnhardt Jr. won that day he asked his crew, “Where’s that big American Flag?”
Earnhardt Jr. then took that large American flag that had hung in his team’s pit box, held it out his window and spun his Budweiser Chevrolet to the right in order to do a reverse victory lap in honor of all those lost.
Two years later at the Bristol Motor Speedway in March of 2003, as American troops began to head toward Bagdad, Iraq, in what is now known as “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” NASCAR once again gathered to race with heavy hearts.
As Kurt Busch picked up his second Bristol win, he too knew to salute America.
Just as Earnhardt Jr. did before him; he took a large American flag and drove it around the Tennessee bullring.
The young driver summed up the day and most importantly the big picture, perfectly.
“This is the greatest country in the world and I have to thank all the vets and everybody that’s overseas fighting for us, so that we’re able to come out here and compete.”
When the 2009 season is looked back upon many will remember the Coca-Cola 600 as David Reutimann’s first career win.
They’ll remember Jimmie Johnson winning four straight championships and driving his way into the NASCAR history books.
Some might remember it as the comeback of a 50-year-old driver that gave the young guns a run for their money.
Others might remember Tony Stewart beginning the next part of his life, as a team owner.
Instead it should be remembered as the moment that not only America, but the moment that the NASCAR world made time stand still.
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