Kicking off a month-long prelude to the 64th running of the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day Weekend, Charlotte Motor Speedway launched its 2023 Mission 600 campaign Wednesday, visiting to the 82nd Airborne’s 2nd Brigade Combat team and 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Bragg, with Coca-Cola Racing Family driver Austin Dillon and his Richard Childress Racing crewman Paul Swan.
Mission 600 is a campaign that pairs NASCAR drivers with military bases designed to educate the NASCAR community about the day-to-day lives of the men and women who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and to build meaningful connections between the worlds of motorsports and the military.
“It’s really special any time you get to come out to Fort Bragg or a military base and spend time with the men and women who keep this country what it is and fight for the freedoms we enjoy,” Dillon said. “Seeing what they do, getting the adrenaline rush of flying in a Blackhawk and shooting some guns, it’s an amazing day.”
As part of Mission 600, Dillon and Swan, alongside Charlotte Motor Speedway Executive Vice President and General Manager Greg Walter, spent the day learning about the equipment and training that members of the 82nd Airborne receive. The trio toured Fort Bragg in a UH-60 Black Hawk and fired an M119A2 Howitzer, rode in Infantry Squad Vehicles, dined with service members in the Warrior Restaurant, took part in an Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) and participated in live-fire exercises.
“Just coming out here and getting to be around these men and women is just incredible,” Swan said. “Getting up in that Black Hawk is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life. When we were shooting the Howitzer, I said, ‘Man, you guys are a well-oiled machine.’ What they do is exactly like what we do at a pit stop. If everybody is not doing their job, doing it right and doing it well, something’s going to mess up. For us, maybe it’s a slow stop or a missed lug; for them, in combat, it could be life or death.”
Fort Bragg is the largest military installation by population in the U.S., providing the infrastructure and training that enables a ready, capable force to fight and win the nation’s wars. The 82nd Airborne Division is America’s immediate response force – ready to deploy and answer the nation’s call in 18 hours.
“We’ve been doing these Mission 600 visits for a couple of years now,” said Greg Walter, executive vice president and general manager at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “What’s really neat is the natural conversations and the mutual appreciation. Austin’s asking questions to this paratrooper’s deployments overseas and family and training. Then, conversely, the paratrooper is asking Austin these same questions. There’s just a natural and mutual appreciation.”
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. The patriotic Coca-Cola 600 pre-race show includes representation from all six major branches of the military.
“I love the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day Weekend,” Dillon said. “The national anthem, the stars and stripes, every military branch being represented, 600 Miles of Remembrance – so many things that tie back to our country and the people who have served and made this country what it is… The real heroes come to our race. It’s really special.”
Tickets are still available for the Coca-Cola 600 Weekend, May 26-28, with three-day packages starting at $99. Weekend tickets for children ages 12 and under are just $10. Fans can purchase tickets online at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com or by calling the ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS (3267). Admission to Circle K Speed Street concerts by AC/DC cover band Dirty Deeds (Friday) and Jake Owen (Saturday) is free with any race ticket. Sunday’s pre-race concert by The Doobie Brothers with Michael McDonald is free with purchase of a Coca-Cola 600 race ticket.