NASCAR shares long history with the military

Col. Steve Mathias of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command has done two tours of duties in Iraq. He's done two more in Afghanistan, and he has served in Korea. He has been putting his body between live ammunition and the freedom of Americans for a lot of years — and he's not done yet.

Thursday afternoon, after directing a simulated aerial assault mission at Kansas Speedway that served as a rehearsal for festivities to be held before Sunday’s Sprint Cup race, Mathias said something interesting.

He said that it was an honor to be attending his first NASCAR race.

Many would argue that it is the fans, teams, officials and drivers who should feel honored as they watch the prerace show this weekend. It is they, the vast majority will say, who owe a debt of thanks to Col. Mathias and his troops.

As NASCAR managing event director David Hoots said after watching the rehearsal, which culminated with the pace car for the race being disgorged from the belly of a massive MH-47 Chinook helicopter, "What they do allows us to do what we do."

The simulated mission of securing a landing zone in the infield at Kansas Speedway will be a first for the track. But the military's connection with NASCAR is as old as the sport.

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