| LONG POND, Pa., Aug. 6, 2007 NASCARs commitment to U.S. troops fired on all cylinders at the Pocono International Raceway here yesterday.
NASCAR is a corporate supporter of the Defense Department's America Supports You program, which connects citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, waves the green flag and starts the NASCAR Pennsylvania 500 auto race at the Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa., Aug. 5, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
During daylong events, NASCAR officials and fans on hand here to watch the Pennsylvania 500 welcomed Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, his family and scores of distinguished military guests. NASCAR donated 10,000 tickets to wounded servicemembers and their families and hosted a swearing-in ceremony for recruits from all five branches of the armed forces.
The NASCAR fan, the NASCAR competitor and the industry in general is Americana, and I dont know anything more American than American soldiers, NASCAR President Mike Helton said. Whenever we have the opportunity to be associated with and honor the American military, we take advantage of that.
Inside the two-and-a-half-mile track before the race, as pit crews and drivers made last-minute engine calibrations and 11th-hour tune-ups, buzzing sounds from pneumatic tools mixed with the sharp smell of gasoline fumes.
Walking on a tarmac-like strip of pavement between garages and sleek trailers that delivered the muscular stock cars, the chairman and his desert camouflage-clad entourage made frequent stops to shake hands with fans eager to voice their support for troops.
Is that a four-star general? Would he take a picture with me? a curious fan asked the chairmans wife, Lynne, whose husband complied and smiled widely for the camera.
Thanks, the fan said. My fathers an ex-Marine.
Former Marine, Lynne corrected her congenially. Theres no such thing as an ex-Marine.
For Pace, who steps down as chairman Oct. 1 and retires from the military after serving 40 years, yesterday likely was one of the last times he will attend a NASCAR race in uniform.
Its incredible, people walk by and they see a uniform, they dont know what your rank is -- they dont know if youre a private or a general -- they just stop and say thank you, he said.
The Pace family initially paid attention to NASCAR in the mid-1990s when the generals nephew began working for the organization, daughter Tiffany Pace said. But like roughly 75 million Americans, the family is now hooked.
The chairmans wife said she and the general have attended seven NASCAR events, including a recent Memorial Day visit to Charlotte, N.C., for NASCARs Coca-Cola 600.
But the scene was far from silent as starting time neared. The raceway revved with the sounds of an estimated 140,000 fans. Spectators were treated to performances by the Marine and Air Force drill teams and a fly-by from a C-17 Globemaster III.
Before the race, Pace appeared on the victory circle stage to swear in about 150 fresh recruits from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines. Standing on the elevated platform that rises above the black-and-white checkered section of concrete marking the finish line, Pace faced the rows of enlistees at attention between him and a sea of fans in bleachers.
Its my great privilege and honor to equip the armed forces of the United States with these great young recruits here, Pace said. I want to thank you for being willing to serve your country at a time when we deeply need your service.
At Paces cue, the young servicemembers raised their right hands and vowed in unison to support and defend the U.S. Constitution against all enemies.
Theyll remember this day for the rest of their lives, Dr. Joseph Mattioli, the Pocono International Raceway track owner, told Pace after the general swore in the recruits and shook each enlistees hand.
Later, Pace would wave the ceremonial green flag, signaling drivers to open throttle and begin the race, and afterward he presented the trophy to Kyle Busch and his Bud Light-sponsored team following their dominating victory.
But before this, the chairman offered gratitude to NASCAR fans and officials who show steadfast support to U.S. servicemembers.
I thank all of you fans for the incredible support NASCAR has provided to our armed forces over the years, Pace said.