Pit Note: Luncheon Honors Military Before Coca-Cola 600
Pit Note #13
Sunday, May 26
LUNCHEON HONORS MILITARY BEFORE COCA-COLA 600: Papa John's Pizza partnered with Charlotte Motor Speedway to honor up to 10,000 troops and their family members with special luncheon celebration held Sunday afternoon at zMAX Dragway, prior to the running of the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
Troops from several military bases in North and South Carolina, along with other members of the armed forces and their families, were bused in to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the event that featured an all-star lineup of personalities. Among the guests in attendance were Lt. Col. Oliver North (ret.); John Schnatter, founder, chairman and CEO of Papa John's International; Marcus Smith, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway; HLN Morning Express television host and singing personality, Robin Meade; congressman Robert Pittinger, NASCAR driver and television personality, Michael Waltrip; and John Falkenbury, president of USO of North Carolina.
Troops and their families were given more than 3,000 pizzas and treated to musical entertainment and drag racing match races. Personalities addressed the troops as many were still marching into the dragway.
"We have been involved with the military for many, many years," said Schnatter. "About three years ago, Marcus and I would race his Mustang against my Camaro, and we didn't tell anybody. We would just race and everybody would come over when they heard the noise. Then we would go over and feed the troops over at the dirt track. So, this year we decided to kind of change things up a bit and say thank you to the troops."
In addition to his military career, North is a political commentator, military historian and New York Times best-selling author. "This Memorial Day race that is held here for these American heroes and that's what they are - heroes," said North. "Normally people think of heroes as being someone wearing spandex and a cape. My heroes wear flack jackets and helmets and flight suits in difficult and dangerous places."
The USO of North Carolina, which works behind the scenes to aid the military and their families, helped organize the event. "I'm humbled. I'm honored. I'm a retired soldier. We didn't do a lot of this when I was in the military," said Falkenbury. "I think America has got it right and it is just a phenomenal event. We are so appreciative of Papa John's, Charlotte Motor Speedway who bent over backwards, not just for this event, but for all races."
Waltrip was also on hand and offered his take on what it means to honor our troops.
"There has been a lot of energy around the track with all the troops that have shown up," Waltrip said. "And I know the race fans, the fan base of NASCAR is rooted in the military. They are a part of our DNA and who we are. I'm just glad to be here to be able to celebrate with them."
Meade was solemn as she noted what it would mean to her to see all of the military-themed pageantry during the pre-race festivities. "You know, at rehearsal today I said to the folks with me, 'It's so emotional. I hope I don't cry during the anthem.'" said Meade. "But I'm sure people would understand if that happens; because it is so emotional. You are just looking at thousands of people who are braver than me. They do what I don't know I would be willing to do."