NASCAR drivers will take to the track on Sunday for the Coca-Cola 600. The event at Charlotte Motor Speedway is also referred to as the 600 Miles of Remembrance due to each driver listing the name of a fallen military member on their stock car. For Kurt Busch, the name on his car has a more personal connection. He will list Construction Electrician Petty Officer Second Class (US Navy) Phil Grieser on the No. 1 Chevrolet Camaro, who served in Vietnam with team member Doug Newell's father. Grieser died from injuries suffered in a rocket attack near the camp of Seabee team 1013 on May 18, 1969.
Speaking with Pop Culture in an exclusive interview, Busch talked about putting Grieser's name on his vehicle. He explained that Newell had initially approached the race team with the idea due to being familiar with the driver's passion for the military. With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing NASCAR to hold events without fans, Grieser's family will not be able to attend the Coca-Cola 600. However, Chip Ganassi Racing ensured that they would experience the moment of seeing the name on Busch's car. They drove from Ohio to North Carolina and watched the race team push the No. 1 car out of the shop so they can be up close and personal with the tribute. Busch was even on hand to surprise the family.
"When you connect a few paths, it seems like the power and the strength comes together. And it's really neat that we can honor somebody that's that close to our race team on our car this weekend," Busch said while adding that another member of the team, Jeff Galloway, had served in the military. "And it's quite an honor to carry anybody's name around. But, when you're able to have that crew member look you in the eye and give you that true sense of gratitude and appreciation, that goes a long way. And I'm really proud of the efforts that were put forth."
NASCAR has a longstanding connection with the United States Armed Forces and has honored fallen members during the annual Memorial Day Weekend race. The Coca-Cola 600 traditionally brings military members from all branches to the track and allows them to spend time with drivers. This will not be possible on Sunday due to the coronavirus, which Busch says will make the race feel incomplete. The Coca-Cola 600 will include a virtually-played "Taps," as well as the national anthem and the 21-gun salute from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg.
"The first couple of races we've done on the NASCAR circuit since the states and the local counties have allowed us to go back and to race, we haven't had our race fans there," Busch said. "And there's moments of this eerie silence. And those moments aren't anywhere near as powerful as it is when we go through those sounds of 'Taps' to recognize our fallen. And I think it's just, wow, just talking about it right now, I'm getting kind of worked up on how powerful it will be with that silence during that moment of recognition."
While the fans and military members will not be at the track, the drivers will strive to honor the fallen during the Coca-Cola 600. Each car will bear the name of someone that sacrificed their life while in the service. Additionally, there will be a Moment of Remembrance midway through the race when the drivers head to pit road and stop the race.
The Coca-Cola 600 takes place on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. ET. FOX will broadcast the race while Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon serve as the commentary team. Busch will once again be in the No. 1 Chevrolet Camaro, driving 600 miles while striving to honor Grieser's memory.