U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter (R) stands at attention while a U.S. Army carry team moves the transfer case of U.S. Army Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base on Oct. 24, 2015 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Long: A soldier he never knew inspired a NASCAR track executive to do more


No mournful horns or soulful strings play. Silence pervades. Brief commands, boots pounding pavement, and, in some cases, sobbing are all that break the stillness.

The dignified transfer of a military member’s remains at Dover Air Force Base is a solemn event few will ever see in person. Nine years after Mike Tatoian witnessed one, the memory has not faded.

“It was a life-changing event,’’ he said.

The president of Dover International Speedway since has observed the dignified transfer annually. He returns to feel the pain, pay respects and continue a quest that started when a soldier he did not know moved Tatoian in ways he could not imagine.

The military’s ties to NASCAR are deeply ingrained from sponsorships and flyovers to pre-race pageantry and tributes. At Dover, it’s more personal. The track and base are close neighbors in Delaware’s capitol city of 37,000.

Dover Air Force Base personnel aid in security at the track during race weekends and the Firefly Music Festival. Groups from the base volunteer race weekends to cook and sell food or assist in the hospitality village. The track makes a donation to each group.

Dover International Speedway’s food and beverage department has assisted in organizing a Christmas Eve dinner for troops on the base the past 10 years. The track donates tickets to the USO with many given to active military at the base.

Tatoian, chairman of the Advisory Council for USO Delaware, also has sought to integrate his staff at the track with base personnel through programs or visits. It helps track employees better understand what takes place on the base, which is home to more than 6,000 military personnel and about 5,000 family members.

Tatoian was learning about the base when he witnessed a dignified transfer nine years ago. Dover Air Force Base is home to the only U.S.-based mortuary dedicated to fallen military. Every military member killed in a theatre of operation is sent to Dover before being shipped to a final destination.

After the plane arrives at the base, white-gloved personnel typically from the same service as the fallen carry the transfer case to a waiting vehicle. The remains are transported to the port mortuary to prepare the fallen to be returned to their family.

The transfer is brief but provides time to contemplate, life, death, dedication, service and many other issues often ignored or overlooked in one’s daily regimen where the biggest issues can be work, traffic or paying bills.

“Everybody knows that it’s their brother or sister that they’ve just lost,’’ Tatoian said. “I think that’s where I was kind of overcome with, the amount of respect. It’s really moving and impactful thing to see.’’

The most recent dignified transfer took place Jan. 8 for Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Q. McClintock, who died from wounds suffered in an attack on his unit in Afghanistan. There were 54 dignified transfers at the base in 2015. In 2010, there were 551.

Seeing one can be overpowering.

“You’re so emotionally exhausted,’’ said Tatoian, whose father served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it (driving home). I talked to my wife about it. It felt as though I knew who was brought home. That really was the day where I said, ‘All right, I never served, I’m not going to be able to, what are the things that I can do now to help serve those that are serving us, knowing that they’re putting it on the line for us.’

“The other thing I remember standing there, during the silence was probably nobody in the United States had any idea what was happening  … yet this young man was somewhere doing something to help everyone in the United States and now he’s coming home in a transfer case.

“Then you start to go through the different emotions of not getting frustrated, but darn it, these men and women and their families, they’re sacrificing for us. Everybody needs to know that and appreciate it. Honestly, I probably didn’t as much that day and after that day it just changed. That’s why I’m knee deep into things I’m doing because I want people to appreciate what these men and women are doing for us.’’

Tatoian increased his involvement in USO Delaware, which provides, among many programs, ways for troops to stay connected with families while on deployment, support groups for families and troops and food for the Fisher House for Families of the Fallen.

The 8,426-square foot home at the Dover Air Force Base provides temporary housing for families there to attend a dignified transfer. The home has a private suite and common areas such as a kitchen, living room, dining room and others.

As Tatoian went through the home one time with track employees, they walked into a room filled with toys for children.

For as much as witnessing a dignified transfer impacted him, Tatoian knows it does not compare to what the families experience. Entering the room with the toys made what happens with a dignified transfer more personal to Tatoian and his staff.

Gary Camp, senior director of communications at the track and a father of two young girls, was stopped by what he saw in that room.

On the chalkboard, a message in a child’s writing remained.

“You’ll always be my dad.’’

Today’s Las Vegas Cup race: Start time, lineup and more

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One down and only 35 to go.

With the Daytona 500 now in the record books, the NASCAR Cup Series moves on to its second race of the season – and the start of the three-race western swing.

Can Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin make it back-to-back wins to start the 2020 season?

How about defending Cup Series champ Kyle Busch, looking for his second career Cup win in his hometown? What about older brother Kurt Busch, still searching for his first career hometown Cup triumph?

Here is all the info for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The 1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic “Miracle” hockey team will give the command to start engines at 3:37 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:46 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage opens at 11:30 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 1:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 3 p.m. The invocation will be given by Motor Racing Outreach chaplain Billy Mauldin at 3:30 p.m. The National Anthem will be performed by Carnell Johnson at 3:31 p.m., followed by a flyover by four F-16 “Vipers” from the 57th Wing Adversary Tactics Group from Nellis Air Force Base at 3:32 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race with coverage beginning at 3:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s broadcast begins at 2:30 p.m. and can also be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: The Wunderground.com forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 68 degrees and a 0% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Joey Logano won this race last year, followed by teammate Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch. Martin Truex Jr. won last September’s playoff race, followed by Kevin Harvick and Keselowski.

TO THE REAR: Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell will start from the rear after L1 level infractions in qualifying inspection. Garrett Smithley will also start from the rear due to three inspections failures.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Rain postpones Las Vegas Xfinity race to 7:30 p.m. ET Sunday

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Rain has forced the conclusion of today’s Xfinity Series race in Las Vegas to be postponed until Sunday after the Cup Series race at approximately 7:30 p.m. ET. The race will resume on FS2.

The race had been red flagged since late Saturday afternoon, with the race paused on Lap 51 of 200, only six laps after Chase Briscoe won Stage 1.

The top 10 is currently scored as:

  1. Joe Graf Jr. (stayed out of pits)
  2. Chase Briscoe
  3. Austin Cindric
  4. Ross Chastain
  5. Brandon Jones
  6. Justin Allgaier
  7. Michael Annett
  8. Justin Haley
  9. Harrison Burton
  10. Brett Moffitt

Kevin Harvick, Gander RV CEO put up $100K bounty to beat Kyle Busch in trucks

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Kevin Harvick and Gander RV & Outdoors CEO Marcus Lemonis issued a bounty poster in tweet form Saturday.

WANTED: A full-time Cup Series driver to beat Kyle Busch in any of his remaining four Truck Series starts this year (without wrecking him).

REWARD: $50,000 each from Harvick and Lemonis.

The bounty comes the night after Busch won his seventh consecutive Truck Series race, which includes all five starts he made in 2019.

Saturday’s race was his first of five in the trucks this season. He’ll be back in the series March 14 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, March 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, March 27 at Texas Motor Speedway and May 30 at Kansas Speedway.

Busch won at Atlanta and Texas last year.

Busch himself didn’t seem too impressed with the bounty when told about it in the media center.

So what is in it for Busch?

If no full-time Cup driver is able to beat Busch in those four races, the bounty will be given to the Bundle of Joy Fund, the organization founded by Kyle and Samantha Busch that helps couples who require fertility treatments to conceive.

Lemonis wasn’t done there. Later Saturday night, he put another proposition out into the Twitterverse. If Fox Sports moved any of the races to prime time, he’d increase the purse among the top-five finishers to $250,000.

Needless to say, the original bounty got the attention of a few drivers, including Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin.

Disclaimer on the following tweet by Hamlin: As noted above, none of Busch’s remaining four truck races are at Richmond Raceway. But…..Richmond is the site of the first Triple Truck Challenge race on April 18.

Richmond’s track president, Dennis Bickmeier chimed in with his thoughts.

Las Vegas Xfinity race under red flag for rain on Lap 51

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Today’s Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is under its second rain delay and its first since the start of race.

The race was paused by a red flag on Lap 51, shortly after the end of Stage 1.

The race is official after the end of Stage 2 on Lap 90.

Joe Graf Jr is listed as the leader after he stayed out during pit stops.

The top five is completed by Stage 1 winner Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric, Ross Chastain and Brandon Jones.

The green flag for the race was originally scheduled for 4:16 p.m. ET. The finally waved at 5:48 p.m. ET.

The rain forced the cancellation of qualifying for Cup and Xfinity. The field was set by last year’s owner’s points.

If the race resumes tonight, coverage will be on FS2.

Check back for more.