CONCORD, N.C. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Danica Patrick and Ryan Newman were on hand Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway to help roll out exciting new programs and activities for fans during Coca-Cola 600 race weekend and unveil the title sponsor's new race logo.
"Every year we have this awesome race - the Ironman race in NASCAR, 600 miles," said Marcus Smith, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway. "But the other part of our weekend happens before the green flag is thrown and that's the celebration of our troops and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. We call it, Let Freedom Race. I like to call it the biggest Memorial Day weekend celebration on the planet."
The celebration starts early in the week, and includes the Coca-Cola Family Track Walk & Summer Cookout, where fans can join NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Denny Hamlin, Jeff Burton, Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle in the infield for an afternoon of food and fun. Coca-Cola will also sponsor an infield camping extravaganza, with movie night, corn hole tournaments and other fun and games throughout the weekend.
On race day, the celebration is all about the troops. With a flyover by a B-52 Bomber, infield military demonstrations and an aerial stunt by the U.S. Army Black Daggers parachute team, the day will be filled with patriotic entertainment fitting of the weekend's Let Freedom Race theme.
In addition to a unique pre-race military tribute, fans can show up early and enjoy a 10-acre Fan Zone with interactive displays, NASCAR merchandise haulers and the POWERADE Play Zone with activities just for kids. Entertainment will also include a pre-race concert by county music star Darius Rucker, who will also perform the National Anthem.
Patrick, a NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie, said she's eager to face the challenge of racing 600 miles when the green flag drops.
"I'm racing in the Coke 600, and that's a pretty darn big event. It's a new challenge. It's a big challenge," Patrick said. "I'm sure there are going to be some points in time that I feel like it's going on forever, and that's because it is. But that's the fun of the Coke 600, lots of time to have fun."
A veteran in Memorial Day's Coca-Cola 600, Newman said drivers have to prepare both mentally and physically for the challenge of NASCAR's longest race.
"Mentally and physically, you have to put yourself in a position to know that you have to do that little bit of extra work," he said. "You have to save your race car. You have to save yourself and put yourself in position. Basically, you just have to know that the end is not the end. It's a little bit after that, compared to what you're used to."
Despite winning multiple poles for the Coca-Cola 600, Newman's best finish is second. He said taking his U.S. Army Chevrolet to Victory Lane on Memorial Day weekend would be particularly special.
"I'm always proud to represent the Army. It's obviously special. We've been fortunate to win the pole here on Memorial Day weekend, and want to get it in Victory Lane on Sunday night. The track here always does such a good job of honoring and remembering and preparing people for the future of what the U.S. Army and all branches of the military do for us. I'm really proud to represent them."
Charlotte Motor Speedway/WFMY News 2 Sports