Each Memorial Day weekend NASCAR Salutes introduces the sport and its fans to a long and esteemed list of fallen heroes - servicemen and servicewomen who have given their life while protecting our country.
The sport memorializes and honors them on this solemn holiday weekend featuring some of the world’s iconic races – a prime opportunity to show gratitude for these brave members of the military.
“NASCAR has always taken immense pride in honoring the military men and women who’ve bravely served our nation,’’ NASCAR President Steve Phelps said. “Each year, NASCAR Salutes unites our industry to celebrate these heroes and their families and recognize them for the sacrifices made to preserve our freedom.’’
For the No. 37 JTG Daugherty Racing team– the connection between the sport and a hero is especially close. The valiant person being honored by the team – Army Sgt. 1st Class David Moore – served eight years of his long and decorated career in the Indiana Army National Guard Unit where he was an officer and mentor for the No. 37 team’s lead engineer, Brian Burns.
Moore died February 4, 2008, of injuries he sustained while deployed in Iraq. And Burns couldn’t be prouder to have the opportunity to honor his late friend and former colleague this weekend in the Monster Energy NACAR Cup Series’ Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (6 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“It means a lot, he was kind of a mentor when I was younger and first got into the military so it was pretty neat to give back to the family and let them know how much I appreciated him and how much he affected me in my youth and made me a better person,’’ said Burns, who served with Moore for eight years in the Army National Guard.
Burns, who enlisted as a teenager in 1993 to earn money for a college education through the GI Bill, was assigned to a National Guard unit in Washington, Indiana, where Moore was an officer, a leader and a mentor. And an inspiration.
The two men served alongside one another in the National Guard unit for most of a decade before Burns attended college at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). He earned his engineering degree at the school and was hired by Chip Ganassi Racing in 2003 before taking his current job at the JTG Daugherty organization.
The Army veteran served as crew chief for the No. 47 and driver A.J. Allmendinger for five years (2011-15), leading the JTG Daugherty team to an emotional win at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International and a Cup Playoff berth in 2014. He currently serves as lead engineer on Chris Buescher’s No. 37 Chevrolet.
“Brian was one of my favorite people to work with in my career,’’ Allmendinger said. “He is very passionate, smart and more importantly easy to work with and always cared about his guys on the team. I’m so happy we were able to get a Cup win together. He is a family man and all-around great person.’’
The praise sounds very familiar to what Burns says of his friend Moore. One of Burns fondest memories in the sport is when his former Army colleague surprised him at Phoenix’s ISM Raceway during a 2005 race weekend.
“When I got out of the Army, it was pretty neat because he knew what I wanted to do and where I was wanting to go with it,’’ Burns recalled of Moore. “When I got out, David had been sent over there to Iraq for a while. He had a leave of absence and I was at the race track in Phoenix for a race weekend and he actually showed up on pit road.
“That was really neat. I didn’t even know he was going to be there. That was really cool. I got to hear some stories of what they’d gone through over there [in Iraq] and show him around the garage and pit road.’’
To honor Moore on the race car Burns engineers – to celebrate his friend’s life and pay credit to his ultimate sacrifice – is an important show of remembrance for Burns. And he looks forward to meeting Moore’s family and commemorating his service.
“In this kind of industry, most people’s day-to-day job, you’re just hustling and bustling and you forget to look up and see what’s going on around you,’’ Burns said. “[Memorial Day] is a day when you can kind of take a moment and reflect back on the sacrifices made so you can do what you want to do – enjoy life with your family and realize how good you have it.
“It’s more personal, because I’ve never met his family so this will be neat for me because I’ll get the opportunity to learn more about him and share some stories.’’
This very personal connection highlights a grid filled this weekend in honor of heroes. Also among them:
Landon Cassill’s No. 00 Chevrolet will carry the name of U.S. Marine Corporal Kyle Schneider who died at the age of 23 while serving in Afghanistan.
Kurt Busch’s No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet will honor U.S. Army Lieutenant General Timothy Maude who was killed Sept. 11, 2001 at the U.S. Pentagon – the highest-ranking U.S. officer killed by foreign action since World War II.
Chase Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet will honor U.S. Army Sergeant Bradley Marshall, who served in the 25th Infantry Division and was killed in Kalsu, Iraq, in 2007. Marshall’s son and his father will attend Sunday’s race and meet Elliott.
Aric Almorola’s No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford will honor fallen Vietnam War veteran John Patrick Bartone, a Warrant Officer in the U.S. Army who was killed in 1970 at the age of 21 in South Vietnam.
Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota will honor U.S. Navy Ensign Sarah Mitchell, 23, a Virginia native who was killed while on deployment in the Red Sea in 2018.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will carry the name of U.S. Air Force Captain John Graziano, who died in November, 2018 while conducting a training mission at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas.
These are a rich sampling of a Coca-Cola 600 starting grid that will be a full display of military heroism and an opportunity for the sport to pay tribute to those who sacrificed and the families and friends who loved them.