Sunday afternoon, NASCAR returns to Talladega Superspeedway for the Geico 500. This race will allow 5,000 fans to attend and will feature a guest that is out of this world. Col. Doug Hurley will serve as the grand marshal and will tell drivers to start their engines from outer space.
Hurley is currently aboard the International Space Station after taking part in SpaceX's historic launch on May 30. This was the first time that the Falcon 9 rocket launched Americans as it sent the Crew Dragon capsule into space. One day later, Hurley and Col. Robert Behnken docked at the ISS. Now that he has been part of the crew, he will set the stage for a highly-anticipated race.
Hurley is the second astronaut to give the iconic call of "drivers, start your engines." Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, served as the Grand Marshal of the Talladega 500 in the summer of 1994. He gave the command but added a little twist. He told the drivers to start their engines by saying, "Gentlemen, energize your groundcraft."
In addition to Hurley serving as the grand marshal, the Geico 500 will feature several other special guests. The 313th United States Army Band will perform both the national anthem and "God Bless America" prior to the green flag. The group will do so virtually, which will be a new experience for many members.
"It's a little bit different because when we are there live on the spot, there's a lot of adrenaline that happens from the crowd in front of millions of people, so to channel that here virtually is definitely a challenge," Staff Sergeant Joel Connelly said to WRBC. William Green, Commander of the 313th United States Army band, added that this will be a new experience for the group. The members of the band generally don't see themselves perform until well after they are done.
Sunday's race will feature a trio of NASCAR stars at the front of the pack. Martin Truex Jr. has the pole position while Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch start second and third, respectively. Jimmie Johnson, who is making his final Cup Series start at Talladega, is slated to start fourth on Sunday. The winner of 2019's Talladega event, Chase Elliott will begin the Geico 500 in 11th place overall.