Yes, there is something exquisite about a day that welcomes you with the twisting course of Monaco, feasts on the flat rectangle of Indy and toasts the night with 600 miles at Charlotte. Racing in all shapes and sizes. Fast cars, enthusiastic fans, panoramas of some of our favorite international locales; all of these fill the day with fun.
But there is something else especially important about the last weekend in May, at least to Americans. Memorial Day is a chance for us to pause and thank all those who have served in our military, present and past. Fortunately, we are fans of a sport that honors the men and women of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, National Guard and the Coast Guard each and every week.
One of NASCAR’s traditions includes the pre-race flyover, often executed by aircraft from the very military we strive to thank. How awesome is it when you listen to the closing bars of the Star-Spangled Banner, only to have the last note drowned out by the jet engines of a pair of F-18s? Surely Sunday’s flyover ranked up there with the lumbering presence of the B-52. Beautiful.
Yes, it is exhilarating to watch a jet buzz the stadium in which you stand. The feel of the ground shaking under your feet as the pilot hits the afterburners cannot be duplicated in any other circumstance. I am always suitably impressed by the technological wonder that just passed by. And too easily dismiss the human in the pilot’s seat.
We become accustomed to the appearance of the presentation of the color guard, barely listen to our national anthem, and yes, even voice our disappointment when the planes overhead aren’t the fastest from the Air Force’s arsenal.
However, in this day and age, where the headlines often include the loss of one of our soldiers in foreign lands on any given day, it is ever important not to lose sight of the purpose of that flying fortress. Capable of flying to any corner of the globe and delivering a payload of the scariest kind of weaponry, the B-52 still represents the starkest realities of the world we inhabit – where a day at the races is truly a privilege we can never take for granted.
The military provides flyovers at various public events across the world funded by their much discussed recruiting and training budgets, logging the flights as training cruises – all in the name of maintaining a positive public image. It is truly an effective use of budget dollars. I am always captured by their graceful and noisy appearance.
But when we are dazzled by these winged heroes it is entirely up to us, the ticket holders, to take that moment of adrenaline pumping glory and transform it into something more.
These planes are engineered for a purpose, one that is horrid and far too often necessary. Men and women walk into battle across our planet protecting those that are subjected to acts of terror. Soldiers do pay the ultimate price fighting so that we may fire up the grill on a hot summer night and share a few beers with the neighbors.
The flyover serves as a modern herald to a day of indulgence and celebration. It pumps up the fans and we lend our voices to the opening moments of competition. And then all that remains is a contrail floating off in the distant horizon and that too quickly vanishes from mind and sight.
But another plane will appear in the distance next week. We’re looking forward to Dover this week, the home of the 436th Airlift Wing. There’s no doubt we’ll be treated to a visit from one of their monstrous cargo planes. And I’m hoping every fan in the stands remembers that the mission of freedom is not one already etched into the history books – to be read as quickly as the flyover happens – but one that we continue to add new chapters to each and every day.
Cheer for the flyover, for it is a truly beautiful aviation moment. And then cheer for those that offer up their very existence for your freedom. It is the very least we can do for our men and women in uniform.
About the author
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.
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