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The air show will go on before Coca-Cola 600

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Wednesday, Apr. 24, 2013

Not even budget battles in Washington can ruin one of NASCAR’s popular traditions.

Marcus Smith, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway, on Tuesday unveiled a new twist to the military-themed show scheduled to take place before the May 26 Coca-Cola 600.

Rather than the traditional pre-race military display and flyover, an “air parade” will take place involving 10 vintage aircraft – some dating back to World War II – and P-51 Mustangs owned by NASCAR team owner Jack Roush.

“There was no question we had to find alternate plans with the sequester,” Smith said, referring to referring to the set of automatic government spending cuts that began March 1.

“There was no shortage of people who were willing to lend a hand and wanted to be part of the pre-race show at the Coca-Cola 600.”

For years, the pre-race show has featured a display of the country’s military units in action, sometimes even in “mock” battles. In addition, all NASCAR races have typically featured a flyover of military aircraft at the conclusion of the national anthem.

The tradition was put in jeopardy this season when the sequester produced a 30 percent cut in military spending, which in turn forced the Air Force to reduce flying hours by 18 percent.

All Air Force flyovers, except for the elite Thunderbirds stunt team, ended on March 1. The Thunderbirds ceased flyovers April 1.

“We have such an amazing history of celebrating the military at the 600. It’s encouraging to see so many people out there that raised their hand up and said they wanted to help continue this tradition,” Smith said.

CMS also unveiled a plan where businesses and race fans can help bring thousands of troops to the 600.

Through the speedway’s new Patriot Partners bus program, troops from Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C., and Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, S.C., will be able to attend the race.

As of Tuesday, Smith said more than 7,000 troops and their family members were set to attend the race. He hopes to raise that number to 20,000 by race day.

“These soldiers deserve to be recognized for their service,” Smith said.

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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