Today marks the longest race of the year for NASCAR as the Cup Series holds the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The 400-lap race was first held in 1960 and has seen its fair share of defining moments.
Here are the five top moments from the first 60 years of the Coca-Cola 600.
1) New Kid on the Block (1994)
The first 46 years of NASCAR were defined by names like Petty, Earnhardt and Waltrip.
Arguably the first big moment for NASCAR’s next generation of racers came on May 29, 1994 courtesy of Jeff Gordon.
That was the day the 22-year-old kid from California scored his first Cup Series win.
After making his first start in the 1992 season finale, Gordon’s team, led by crew chief Ray Evernham, had to wait until their 42nd start together to visit Victory Lane.
The victory was aided by Evernham’s decision on a late pit stop to take two tires instead of four.
Gordon led the final nine laps and beat Rusty Wallace. In Victory Lane, an emotional Gordon called it the greatest day of his life.
2) One Turn Away (2011)
May 29, 2011 was not a good day to drive a race car sponsored by the National Guard.
The bad luck began on the last lap of the Indianapolis 500. Rookie J.R Hildebrand was leading Dan Wheldon when Hildebrand passed a slow car on the outside in the final turn and hit the wall, allowing Wheldon to steal the win.
An overtime finish saw Earnhardt leading at the white flag. He still led in Turn 3, but then his No. 88 Chevrolet pulled up lame in Turn 4 as it ran out of gas.
That allowed Kevin Harvick to overtake him and streak to the checkered flag as Earnhardt limped to a seventh-place finish.
It was the first of two Coke 600 wins for Harvick.
3) The No. 3 Returns to Victory Lane (2017)
After Feb. 18, 2001 and the death of Dale Earnhardt in the Daytona 500, the No. 3 did not compete in the Cup Series for 13 years.
Richard Childress Racing brought the number back in 2014 with Childress’ grandson, Austin Dillon, behind the wheel.
Dillon and his team would have to wait until May 28, 2017 to bring the famous number back to Victory Lane.
The race ended with a 67-lap green flag run, which set up a fuel-mileage battle between Jimmie Johnson and Dillon.
Johnson ran out of gas with two laps to go, which allowed Dillon to take the lead on the backstretch. Dillon took the checkered flag, giving the No. 3 a win in the Coke 600 for the first time since 1993.
4) The Silver Fox Arrives (1961)
1960 saw the inaugural Coke 600 – then called the World 600 – and the arrival of David Pearson on the NASCAR stage.
The following year Pearson began building his Hall of Fame resume in the 400-lap race.
Pearson, driving a car owned by Ray Fox, dominated the race by leading 225 laps.
But Pearson’s car didn’t finish the race in one piece.
With two laps to go, one of the tires on Pearson’s Pontiac blew. But Pearson managed to pilot the car to the checkered flag, crossing the finish line in sparks to beat Fireball Roberts by two laps.
It was the first of 105 career Cup wins for Pearson and his first of three Coke 600 wins.
5) Janet Guthrie Arrives in NASCAR (1976)
While David Pearson and Richard Petty finished first and second, the future Hall of Famers weren’t the highlight of the World 600 on May 30, 1976.
That was the driver who finished 15th in her first NASCAR race: Janet Guthrie.
Guthrie, a former aerospace engineer and a sports car driver, had been brought to the World 600 by Charlotte Motor Speedway President Humpy Wheeler after her bid to make the Indianapolis 500 failed.
Guthrie became the first woman to compete in a NASCAR race on a superspeedway. She started 27th and survived the 400-lap marathon as 16 cars dropped out. While she finished 21 laps behind Pearson and Petty, she placed ahead of future Hall of Famers Richard Childress, Bill Elliott, Dale Earnhardt and Bobby Isaac.
It was the first of 33 career Cup starts Guthrie would make over the next four years and it was her only start in the 600.
Among major professional sports, NASCAR has had one of the longest and most meaningful relationships with the U.S. military.
That is most notable every Memorial Day weekend when for more than 30 years Charlotte Motor Speedway has honored present and former members of the military, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Even without fans and former and current military members in the stands, there will be a military presence at the track in the form of former service members who work for teams or in the sport.
Here are some of their stories:
– Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer, NASCAR
– Military service: U.S. Army, 1994-98 (active duty) and 1998-2001 (reserves). Served as a specialist/armored crewman, primarily on tanks.
If anyone would ever try to strap Goodyear racing tires on an M1 Abrams tank, it likely would be Tim Clark.
“Driving an Abrams tank doesn’t translate into a career in digital media, no matter what they try and tell you. Tanks don’t maneuver quite as well (as a stock car),” Clark said with a laugh to NBC Sports.
After piloting tanks in places such as Fort Knox, Kentucky; Fort Riley, Kansas; Fort Irwin, California and Germany, Clark joined NASCAR in 2012.
He came from a military family. His father, grandfather and uncle all served. He joined shortly after graduating from high school.
“(Being in the military) taught me the value of organization and teamwork, being motivated and working on a cause greater than yourself,” Clark said. “Some of the lessons that I learned there are by far the most important things that I’ve been able to apply from a career standpoint, no doubt.”
Clark takes pride in how the Coke 600 has honored veterans over the years.
“I think the respect that’s shown is the best part for me,” Clark said. “The drivers meeting is a great example. You’ll have a ton of VIPs and celebrities introduced, but the standing ovations are almost always reserved for military members.
“Being able to see it from both sides and through two different lenses, it’s incredibly powerful and I’m thankful to have the opportunity not only to have been in the military but also to now work for a company that has so much respect for the military.”
Clark said being in the military serves as good preparation for civilian life. He can’t count the number of times soldiers have asked him how they can someday also work in NASCAR.
“That is one of the most pleasant surprises of my time in the military,” Clark said. “The Army does a phenomenal job of preparing you to move into a civilian life and into a career. They help you with resumes, letters of recommendation and tips on how to apply what you’ve learned in the military into your careers and civilian life.”
Clark acknowledges that with fans and military missing, Sunday will be a strange feeling. But at the same time, he’s heartened that CMS and NASCAR will make sure service members and veterans are still honored.
“In an ideal world, we have not only troops at the track but the fans and everyone else out to enjoy the race,” he said. “But if the alternative is that we have a race that doesn’t have anyone in the stands and instead it’s just television entertainment, I think there’s a lot of value in that.
“Our ability to provide some entertainment and a distraction for not only the troops but for all NASCAR fans is top of mind for everyone. We’re doing that in a way that’s going to be the safest option for everyone.”
– President, Richard Childress Racing
– Military service: U.S. Navy, 1984-90. Served as an intelligence officer
With three years as an intelligence officer on the U.S. Nimitz aircraft carrier and three years at the Pentagon, the skills Torrey Galida acquired — things like analysis, interpretation, direction and execution — laid a foundation that has carried over into nearly a quarter-century in automotive manufacturing and racing, eventually becoming president of Richard Childress Racing in 2014.
“It was all part of my grand plan,” Galida said with a laugh.
Unlike some current members of the NASCAR community who went from high school into the military and eventually to college, Galida graduated from the University of Colorado, joined the Navy for six years and then earned an MBA from Duke University.
Galida went on to a lengthy stint as an executive with Ford, ran the pace car program for the Indianapolis 500, and was a key executive at Millsport Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing before joining RCR as Chief Operating Officer in 2011.
Galida has never forgotten his military service. He sits on the board of the Defense Alliance of North Carolina and along with the support of team owner Richard Childress, began a unique program of involvement with veterans more than three years ago.
Before the pandemic, RCR hosted veterans on the first Wednesday of the month, providing coffee and doughnuts and guest speakers. Galida said the event would attract about 200 veterans each month.
“We’ve also done a couple of special events,” Galida said. “We did lunch last May to celebrate the 75th anniversary of D-Day and had over 1,200 people, including 64 World War II vets and five or six that actually participated in the invasion of Normandy.
“It was amazing to see all those people there and incredible to see that many World War II vets.”
RCR, which employs 24 veterans, also is involved in a number of other military initiatives, including an annual “military salutes” program with Dow Chemical Co. at Michigan International Speedway. The initiative features a stars-and-stripes paint scheme on Austin Dillon’s race car that includes the names of nearly 2,000 Dow and RCR employees or family members who are former service members.
“Even though I’ve been around this for 15 years,” Galida said, “it was really a pretty cool experience to see your name actually on the car.”
– Retired NASCAR crew chief
– Military service: U.S. Army, 1959-61, Specialist E-4 ordnance specialist
Dale Inman is the most successful crew chief in NASCAR history, winning eight championships (seven with Richard Petty, Inman’s cousin, and one with Terry Labonte) and 171 races overall.
Inman started going to races with Richard and father Lee Petty in 1951, with several of those trips to Daytona Beach, Florida, for races on the sand.
After attending the last sanctioned race on the beach in 1958 and the first Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in February 1959, the then 23-year-old Inman was drafted into the Army seven months later.
He served as an ordnance specialist, which oversees logistics. In Inman’s case, he oversaw the movement of trucks, deliveries and repairs.
Before Inman became a seven-time Daytona 500 winner with Petty, his Army tenure was fairly routine, with one exception.
Not surprisingly, it involved racing.
“In 1960, while in France, me and some friends in the Army went to Le Mans,” he recalled. “We took tents and camped out. We got there a day or two before the race and somehow we rode around the racetrack.
“One of the boys had a car over there and we went riding around the racetrack through the streets and by the houses, which were barriers (for the racetrack). It was unreal.”
Inman was discharged in 1961 and went to work as Petty’s crew chief after the 1963 season.
“There’s no question about how things I learned in the military helped me in civilian life, things like leadership, guidance or how to run a tight ship,” Inman said. “Whether in the Army or NASCAR, if you’ve got five or more people under you, you’ve got to have a leader, right?
“And you’ve got to respect the leaders. When I became a crew chief, people did respect me and I certainly learned a lot from the military. You’ve got to be disciplined, you know.”
Another story Inman likes to tell is about how “one of my heroes” – a fellow soldier who served a few years before him and someone who would one day join him in the NASCAR Hall of Fame – didn’t exactly get as good of a deal in the military as Inman did.
“They extended (the tours of service of) certain people depending on their birthday,” Inman said. “I missed getting extended an extra year by seven days.
“But Leonard Wood (one of the patriarchs of Wood Brothers Racing) got extended and he had to stay in another year, which cut into his racing.”
Not surprisingly, Wood’s specialty in the Army was the same thing that would lead him to fame and fortune in NASCAR – being a mechanic.
These days, Inman is happily retired in his hometown of Level Cross, North Carolina, where he and Richard Petty grew up together. Inman fondly recalls what the military means to him, particularly all the years it has been tied to NASCAR.
“I still get a thrill when I see the flyovers at the racetrack,” he said. “Any time I’m at the racetrack and see a veteran in a wheelchair or on crutches or with lost limbs or anything, I go out of my way to go speak to them and thank them and carry on a conversation the best I can, and I think they appreciate it too.”
– Military service: U.S. Air Force (1975-78 and 1982-2004). Served as F-16 crew chief, PR specialist, security police and recruiter.
Part of Randy Fuller’s job has been to pass out various sponsor caps to team members for photos in victory lane when his driver wins – NASCAR’s so-called “hat dance.”
Fuller couldn’t be more suited for that role, as he’s worn many hats in his career, including a 26-year tenure in the U.S. Air Force.
After graduating from high school, Fuller went from being a security police officer to F-16 crew chief to recruiter (he led a team of over 1,200) and marketing and public relations specialist.
He earned several of the Air Force’s most prestigious awards for his service, including for leadership and was named one of 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year in 1997.
Between his military stints, he also served as a police officer – both full-time and part-time – from Georgia to Utah to Niagara Falls.
Just days after retiring from the Air Force at the end of 2004, Fuller began wearing another cap, that of a NASCAR public relations person.
Over the years, Fuller, 62, has worked with a number of NASCAR notables while overseeing the Air Force’s NASCAR program, including Dale Jarrett, Wood Brothers Racing, Elliot Sadler and Ricky Rudd.
Shortly before he was due to retire from the U.S. Air Force a second time, then-Chief Master Sergeant Fuller was tracked down in San Antonio, Texas by NASCAR team owner Jack Roush to become a public relations person for an up-and-coming driver named Carl Edwards.
Fuller would hold that role for more than 10 years.
While Fuller took Edwards under his wing, he also treated him like a staff sergeant – in a good way.
“I’d only been working at Roush for like three weeks when we had a conversation,” Fuller said. “Carl goes, ‘Why do you always take your sunglasses off when you talk to me?’ I said, ‘Because you can tell a lot by people’s eyes and they can tell a lot by yours. It’s just a matter of respect. That’s what we did in the military.’
“Carl did that ever since. He just picked it up and embraced it. If you notice, Brandon Jones is doing that now, too.”
Since Edwards’ retirement in 2016, he still speaks with Fuller weekly while the latter has gone on to rep a number of promising young drivers including Christopher Bell, Ryan Preece, Kyle Benjamin and Jones.
“It’s pretty neat to mentor people,” Fuller said. “Between the Air Force and NASCAR, there’s so many similarities that you can’t even believe.
“But I think the biggest thing is the team. You can’t just fly an F-16. That pilot is just like the driver. You can’t fly it without the rest of the team refueling it, pre-flight, that kind of stuff, right? Same thing in NASCAR. You’ve got people that never even get recognized that are back in the shop, never go to the track. And these guys are probably some of the most important people besides the driver.”
Fuller has taken part in Charlotte Motor Speedway’s annual Salute to the Troops for more than 20 years, both while in the Air Force and as a team PR rep.
“The pride is huge,” Fuller said. “The hair on the back of my neck still stands up when a flyby goes across.”
He was a truck driver in the Marines, a role Barban carried over to civilian life for nearly a decade with Team Penske, piloting haulers for Rusty Wallace, Bobby Allison, Al Holbert, Danny Sullivan, Rick Mears and Emerson Fittipaldi.
“I think my work ethic probably was a huge thing that transferred from the military to privately and personally career-wise,” Barban said. “Whatever the job or task at hand was, you’d just go ahead and do what you had to do to get it finished.”
Being in the military also instilled focus in the St. Louis native.
“My dad used to make fun of me that I had 21 jobs and 21 cars before I was 21 years old, everything from wiring the electric meter that goes on your house to putting the ball on Ban roll-on, mop buckets, making the blades for can openers, Steak n’ Shake hamburger flipper, rental cars and brick laying,” Barban laughed. “But it’s been 32 years in racing since then.”
Part of what led to Barban’s first job with Team Penske, followed by Hendrick Motorsports, Robert Yates Racing and then back to HMS was the spit-and-polish routine he learned in the Marines.
“When you when you walk in, I think there’s a presence: clean cut, (shirt) tucked away pretty nice, pleated pants and polished boots,” Barban said. “I feel like that definitely translated into my private life after having that experience.
“I think that any person that has any military background whatsoever is definitely a good hire.”
For the first time ever, NASCAR team owner Richard Childress has parted with a legendary Dale Earnhardt-driven race car from his personal collection, with the $425,000 raised going to COVID-19 relief charities.
Auctioneers Barrett-Jackson held online bidding from May 9-16 for the 1996 No. 3 Chevrolet Monte Carlo that Earnhardt won with that year at Rockingham Speedway and earned several other top-five finishes through 1999.
“I’ve never parted with an Earnhardt Chevrolet from my collection, but with a global pandemic taking place and people in our communities suffering, it’s time to do what I can to help,” Childress said in a statement. “All proceeds will benefit much-needed causes to fight the devastating effects of COVID-19 on a local and national level.”
The winning bidder chooses to remain anonymous, but the money will be split equally to the charities Feeding America and Samaritan’s Purse.
“America is facing unprecedented times right now and it’s going to take everyone working together and making sacrifices to make a difference,” Childress said in a statement. “I have so many memories of this No. 3 Chevrolet, including celebrating with Dale Earnhardt in Victory Lane.
“I will always hold those memories dearly, but now I am thrilled to see that the winning bidder will be able to build memories as well.”
No fans are expected to be allowed at those events.
NASCAR’s schedule has been ever-changing based on a variety of factors from local and state ordinances to readiness of Cup teams to compete. The upcoming events are expected to be one-day shows with a limited number of team members, approximately 10, allowed. Practice is not expected to be held. It is expected to be qualify and race or race only.
The latest version of NASCAR’s schedule has the season resuming May 17 at Darlington Raceway with a 400-mile race. Teams would return to Darlington for another race on May 20, a Wednesday.
Gov. Cooper said last week that state health officials would have to approve Charlotte Motor Speedway hosting NASCAR races. Gov. Cooper said Tuesday that NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway had submitted safety plans and the state had responded with suggestions.
“We believe, unless health conditions go down, that we can have the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend in Charlotte,” Gov. Cooper said.
In a statement, Marcus Smith, Speedway Motorsports President and CEO, stated: “On behalf of our team at Charlotte Motor Speedway, I’d like to thank Gov. Cooper and all of our state and local government officials who are working with us to get NASCAR back on track with the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day Weekend where it belongs. We’ll have more details to share soon in conjunction with NASCAR’s release of a revised event schedule.”
After the May 24 Coca-Cola 600, the proposed schedule would have Cup teams racing again at Charlotte on May 27, a Wednesday.
Next on the schedule would be Martinsville Speedway on the final weekend of the month.
The proposed schedule is centered around tracks near the Charlotte region where most Cup teams are based. Teams prefer to run at races within a short drive of the Charlotte area so they can go to the track and return in one day without needing to stay at a hotel or fly.
NASCAR has stated that it intends to run the remaining 32 Cup races this season. Teams need all those races to run to collect sponsor money, prize money and TV money. Without races, teams have not brought in money. Some teams have applied for money through governmental programs.
With the current schedule showing NASCAR running its first two races back at Darlington Raceway and the expectation that Darlington will still host the first race of the playoffs in September, then it would mean that the Darlington May races would replace other events on the schedule to maintain the same number of races. NASCAR has not announced such changes.
NC Governor says NASCAR teams can work as essential business
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday that NASCAR teams can work in race shops as an essential business, provided their employees maintain social distancing guidelines and local governments don’t have different restrictions, allowing the sport to move closer to resuming its season as early as next month.
He also said public health officials were examining a proposal for NASCAR to race in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway without fans.
Gov. Cooper made the comments during a media briefing Thursday where he announced that the state’s stay-at-home order had been extended to May 8. The stay-at-home order, which began March 30, was to have ended April 29.
Asked about about whether teams could work in their shops, Gov. Cooper said:
“From the information that I have now, already under our state executive order, they can begin working in their garages as an essential business as defined under our executive order. (Teams) are still in contact with local health departments. Local governments may have some different health restrictions.”
Asked about about the possibility of Charlotte Motor Speedway hosting the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend, Gov. Cooper said:
“I’ve been in contact with NASCAR officials, track owners, team owners, they have come forward with a plan to try to protect their employees, a proposal that there would be no fans in the stands. Right now our public health officials are examining their proposals and they’re also talking to local governments there, their (shops) are in several counties around Charlotte, Cabarrus, Iredell and Mecklenburg about how they would run their (shops) and to get the cars ready, they need a couple of weeks ahead of time. We’ll be coming forward with an announcement on that pretty soon after we’ve had more conversations with public health officials and with NASCAR officials.”
The reason NASCAR seeks to resume in mid-May at Darlington is because the South Carolina track is about a two-hour drive from many shops. That would allow teams to go to the speedway and return home without needing to stay at a hotel and risk any chance of COVID-19 infection.
“I think it’s really critical to have (races) within driving distance” of race shops, car owner Richard Childress told NBC Sports. “It’s all about being smart and being cautious and being aware of everyone around you.”
Gov. Cooper’s decision Thursday comes as governors in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee have announced this week plans to ease restrictions in those states by the end of the month.
North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services reported Thursday morning that the state has had 7,608 confirmed COVID-19 cases out of 96,185 completed tests. There are 486 people in North Carolina hospitalized with the coronavirus and 253 have died.
Gov. Cooper defended his decision to extend the stay-at-home order by saying: “I will not risk the health of our people or our hospitals, and easing those restrictions now will do that.”
Among the data cited for the extension was the trajectory of COVID-19 cases over 14 days. The Governor wants to see a decrease or sustained leveling of the number of lab-confirmed cases. That continues to increase. He also wants to see a decrease in the percentage of positive tests, which continues to increase at a slow rate. He seeks to see a decrease or sustained leveling of hospitalizations, which has had a slight trend upward.
Other factors include a desire to be able to test 5,000-7,000 a day, to hire 250 additional people to trace COVID-19 cases and have a 30-day supply of gowns and N95 masks, which the state does not have.
“I know the people in our state are eager to move forward and we will get there,” Gov. Cooper.
We need to slow the virus before we can ease restrictions, so today I’m extending the Stay At Home order until May 8. This includes continued closure of dine-in restaurants, bars & close-contact businesses like hair and nail salons, movie theaters & others in Executive Order 120.