The Memorials Are Different

Little-known fact: This is a Transformer. I've seen it turn into a gigantic flying monster.

Little-known fact: This is a Transformer. I’ve seen it turn into a gigantic flying monster.

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Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, May 24, 2015, 1:04 p.m.

I attended the Indianapolis 500 for five consecutive years, 1988-92, before I wrote about 20 consecutive Coca-Cola 600s. Perhaps as a result, I was always struck by the differing visions of Memorial Day.

Charlotte Motor Speedway, seen through a fishbowl. (NASCAR via Getty Images)

Charlotte Motor Speedway, seen through a fishbowl. (NASCAR via Getty Images)

Indy is the playing of “Taps,” the Purdue University Marching Band, and “Back Home Again in Indiana.”

Charlotte is the annual Invasion of the Trioval.

Indy is restrained. Charlotte is flamboyant.

Once, many years ago, soldiers were depicting some military engagement at Charlotte. Helicopters were landing. Bright blue smoke was swirling in the air. A plywood hut was exploding, and soldiers were crawling across the trioval grass and firing machine guns, thankfully loaded with blanks, in the direction of the grandstands.

In the press box, Kenny Bruce, then working for the Kingsport, Tennessee, paper, I believe, turned around and said, “Those boys better be glad this isn’t Bristol. They’d have a fight on their hands.”

Monte Dutton

Monte Dutton

My favorite Charlotte moment, though, was in the fall. Ernie Irvan, whose injuries from several serious accidents had forced him reluctantly to retire, delivered a speech similar to the Lou Gehrig “I consider myself the luckiest man on earth” speech, and few in the house had dry eyes.

The P.A. announcer, the late Bill Connell, fixed that. Ernie had barely finished when Connell’s voice boomed, “And now, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Miss Chiquita Banana to deliver the four most famous words in motorsports.”

Miss Banana, who wore a huge basket of bananas on her head, drew immediate comparisons to Carmen Miranda. (Kids, consult Wikipedia.) If it had been Miranda, who, unfortunately, died in 1955, she would have said, “Jeetelmeen, stahrt jour aynjuns!”

It sort of wrecked the moment.

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About Monte

For 20 seasons, I mostly wrote about NASCAR. I'm still paying attention, but I'm spending more of my time these days writing novels and songs. I try to blog regularly on whatever happens to strike my fancy.
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5 Responses to The Memorials Are Different

  1. bobi says:

    As usual, your observations are right on target. I’ve always been disturbed by NASCAR’s and particularly Charlotte’s approach to honoring the military. While I completely support and appreciate our military, I find much of what goes on at Charlotte just short of exploitation.

  2. Dave Fulton says:

    Nailed it.

  3. Al Torney says:

    I was there when that hut exploded. Scared the bejesus out of me. Humpy was forever the showman.

    I thought Indy’s and ABC’s presentation was particularly moving this year. Showing the memorials and Arlington with the Unknown Soldier sort of brings the horrors of war home. The entire pre-race ceremony at Indy is an event in itself.

    While Charlotte’s approach is unto it’s own it still makes me proud to be an American and think highly of our young fighting men and those who died in battle.

  4. Bill H says:

    There is a difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. I think Indycar and ABC had a pretty clear grip on that difference, whereas NASCAR and Fox did not. The latter had a great deal of “honoring the troops,” and the drivers each had the name of a military person, “some of whom had given their lives,” and some of whom are stil living. It was in poor taste.

  5. Hank says:

    Bill, you’re a bit off on your comments regarding the names. All of the names were for soldiers who had died while serving our great nation. I happened to think the 38 car had a neat tribute with The Unknown Soldier, as their truck driver had a lot of comrades who didn’t make it home and their bodies weren’t returned stateside.

    I think the military maneuvers are a little overblown and tacky, but I can’t really fault the people at NASCAR or Charlotte Motor Speedway for wanting to recognize our troops.

    All I hope and pray for is that we don’t find out they’re getting a big kickback to do it.

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