Austin Dillon begins his defense of last year's thrilling Coca-Cola 600 victory on May 27, but the defending winner of NASCAR's toughest test of man and machine met with a completely different form of defense on Thursday at Fort Bragg. As a high-octane preview of Charlotte Motor Speedway's patriotic Memorial Day weekend Salute to the Troops, Dillon and members of his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing pit crew continued Charlotte's Mission 600 tour by participating in Coca-Cola 600 pre-race show training with Fort Bragg and the DeGlopper Air Assault School.

Their exhilarating activities included rides on route clearing and infantry vehicles, infantry demonstrations and descent from the 45-foot Air Assault Rappel Wall.

"These guys have nerves of steel, man," Dillon said. "It's awesome seeing what they do for a living and how they do it to protect our freedom. It's a totally different activity from what I do, but it's intense and it keeps the adrenaline pumping. … Any time we can come out and hang out with our military men and women, it's great. I'm a huge supporter of our military. It's what allows me to go race on the weekends. They give us a chance to do what we do for a living. I'm so proud to be out here hanging out with these guys and getting to see how they work every day and how they train. It's awesome that I got to bring out my team out here because these guys are all about 'team' and working together. I can't thank them enough for their hospitality.

"We had a blast rappelling down the wall. It was really cool. It's a tough task, but they're great about getting the equipment on you and making sure you're safe. People say, 'Oh, you're crazy to be driving a race car,' but I know my safety equipment just like they know theirs. That's why they trust it to jump off helicopters. I love it. What the Army does is unbelievable."

Dillon's spectacular tour of Fort Bragg - the world's largest military installation featuring more than 50,000 active duty personnel of the U.S. Army - concluded by unveiling the striking, red No. 3 Coca-Cola Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Dillon will drive in this year's Coca-Cola 600 on May 27.

"We want to say 'Thank you,' and it's not only for (Charlotte Motor Speedway) but for everyone to have this partnership to show America's people what their Army does," said Brig. Gen. Xavier Brunson, chief of staff for the XVIII Airborne Corps. "(The Coca-Cola 600) is probably one of the largest Memorial Day weekend events that occurs every year. It's a great sporting event that allows us to show the people America's Army."

Dillon said he appreciated his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory coming in last year's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.

"This year, going back, I've got Coca-Cola on the car and we're partnering with USO for the best day in racing," he added. "'The biggest day in racing' is what they call it and I agree. Luckily, the day gets to end in my home state of North Carolina at my favorite track, Charlotte Motor Speedway. I love going there. Hopefully, we can bring back another trophy."

Other drivers tentatively scheduled to appear for Mission 600 are Darrell "Bubba" Wallace, the driver of the No. 43 U.S. Air Force Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base on May 9 and Alex Bowman and the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 pit crew at U.S. Coast Guard Station Wrightsville Beach on May 17.

As part of the salute to the military, race fans are encouraged to use the hashtag #KnowYourMil.

Through the speedway's "Patriot Partners" program, race fans or corporate customers can buy a Coca-Cola 600 race ticket to send a member of the U.S. Armed Forces to America's Home for Racing for just $25.