There are just some races every NASCAR fan wants to attend. The Daytona 500, the Brickyard, and the night race at Bristol are the most popular. There's races like the July 4 weekend in Daytona, any race at Talladega, and the All-Star weekend in Charlotte.
But, ask any NASCAR fan what race weekend makes them take a step back and be proud to be at a race, one weekend trumps them all.
It's the Memorial Day Weekend celebration at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The Coca-Cola 600 is unlike any race on the NASCAR schedule. It brings in all aspects of any event the teams run all year and combines them in one race. It starts out in the daylight hours, with the sun shining on the track.
As the night wears on, the track turns to twilight and the lights come on. Finally, when the checkered flag flies, the stars are in the sky and fireworks get set off in celebration.
But, it's what happens before this race that makes every driver, crew, and fan take a step back and realize who are the real heroes.
The men and women of the United States Armed Forces flock to this speedway to get the ultimate respect and honor those who have fallen before them. All branches come to be represented, including the reserves.
There's demonstrations of the fighting tactics of these men and women. Helicopters suddenly appear dropping soldiers down as if they were in a war zone. The wind from the propellers can be felt in an instant as it hovers above the speedway.
Targets explode as ammunition is fired, and the crowd applauds their showmanship.
The Army choir sings patriotic songs as the fans begin to gather in the stands, including God Bless America. Then, solo acts from a few of the soldiers included Have You Forgotten by Darrel Worley and American Soldier by Toby Keith.
As the choir leaves, the true heroes come out. The entire frontstretch is flanked by uniformed soldiers, standing at attention, as the crowd looks on. With all the men and women of the armed forces standing before the people they are protecting, opening ceremonies begin.
The invocation honoring those serving far and wide, and those that have fallen, gets followed by a 21-gun salute.
Then, the moment that brings a tear to every person inside the speedway. The trumpet player comes to the microphone and proceeds to play Taps.
I remember when I attended this race in 2006 and 2007 as that song was being played looking at my father. I saw tears on his cheek because we both lost close friends and family who were war veterans.
Whether you are from a military family or not, that moment silences the entire crowd.
Finally, as the National Anthem is belted out, a roar comes from overhead. Three, four, or sometimes five fighter jets streak past the grandstands. The fans wave their hats in appreciation, and soon all the soldiers that were on the speedway march off.
As they do, the fans applaud them in appreciation.
Sure, many of the races have a pre-race concert, or activities that all the fans can participate in. However, this race is the most unique, patriotic, and the most humbling of all races on the schedule.
If there ever was a race that will make a NASCAR fan proud to be a citizen of the United States, the Coca-Cola 600 is that race.
It's the one race where all fans shed their colors of their favorite drivers. Before the green flag, there are no Junior fans, no Kyle Busch fans, no followers of Mark Martin.
During those pre-race ceremonies, every person sitting in those stands becomes a fan all over again of the U.S.A.
There is no other race like it, and no other pre-race at any track comes close to it.
Memorial Day Weekend at the Charlotte Motor Speedway is one experience that NASCAR fans have to see just once in their lifetime.
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