The NASCAR Cup Series drivers head to South Florida on Sunday for a race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Before the Dixie Vodka 400, two football stars with ties to the area will set the stage for an action-packed afternoon of racing. Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will serve as grand marshal while former New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma will be the honorary starter.
Track officials announced the news on Thursday and confirmed that Tagovailoa will issue the most famous words in motorsports. Although he will do so virtually due to COVID-19 protocols. Vilma, a Miami native and former standout for the Hurricanes, will head to the track and climb to the top of the starter's stand as the drivers take their pace laps. He will wave the green flag and get the 400-mile race going.
"Having Tua and Jonathan join us for this special weekend is a true honor, and we are thrilled to host them," said Al Garcia, Homestead-Miami Speedway President. "Tua helped to return the Dolphins to their winning ways last year, and Jonathan was a key member of several successful University of Miami teams, continuing the school's tradition of greatness. We know that many NFL players have recently taken a vested interest in NASCAR, and we are happy that both will have the opportunity to see just how exciting our sport can be."
Vilma grew up in Miami and helped bring a championship to the area. After attending Coral Gables High School, he headed to the University of Miami and played a key role in the 2001 National Championship victory. The New York Jets selected Vilma with a first-round pick, kickstarting a 10-year NFL career in which he played in both New York and New Orleans. Now Vilma works as an analyst for Fox.
Tagovailoa landed in Miami as a first-round pick after a standout career with the Alabama Crimson Tide. He started nine games as a rookie while alternating with veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick. The team went 6-3 and nearly reached the playoffs while he threw for 1,814 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Along with Tagovailoa and Vilma, the Dixie Vodka 400 will also feature another special guest. Sarah Stiles, who plays Beth on Netflix's The Crew, will virtually appear while taking part in a time-honored tradition. She will sing the national anthem.
The Dixie Vodka 400 takes place at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday. Fox will provide coverage for the race, which starts shortly after 3:30 p.m. ET. Denny Hamlin will lead the field to the green flag after winning the Busch Pole.