The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), honored in 2002 for displaying patriotism proudly and publicly even before the 9/11 attacks the previous fall brought it back to the forefront of U.S. culture. President Mike Helton accepted the award.
Incorporated in February 1948, the first official NASCAR race was run on a sandy course in Daytona Beach, Fla. – not far from the superspeedway where the organization’s season-opening
Daytona 500 is run today. Southern at its roots, most of the early drivers (and fans) were from southern states, and their sense of tradition runs deep.
NASCAR’s sense of pride in the United States – and in the U.S. military – is as strong today as it was in 2002. Pre-race ceremonies include two simultaneous waves in the grandstands: of people standing up and taking their ballcaps off upon an announcement. After an invocation asking for safety for the drivers, the national anthem is sung, colors are presented (servicemembers are always present), and the ceremonies end with a military flyover. All of this is televised live as part of the broadcast.
But the organization’s relationship with the military goes beyond ceremonies. Knowing their receptive audience, two service branches actually sponsor cars in the top-level Sprint Cup Series: the Army car of Ryan Newman and the National Guard car of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. The latter was on display at the Ellipse near the White House this week as part of “NASCAR Unites – An American Salute,” a six-week program that NASCAR.com describes as “designed to unify the NASCAR industry and fans in celebrating America and supporting military families.”