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'Never saw them coming.' ... How 5 NASCAR drivers connected with military

NASCAR's Kurt Busch lives day in the life of a recon Marine at Camp Lejeune

Former Coca-Cola 600 winner Kurt Busch visited Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune on Tuesday as a preview of Charlotte Motor Speedway’s spectacular prerace salute to the troops before the Coca-Cola 600 on May 27, 2018.
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Former Coca-Cola 600 winner Kurt Busch visited Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune on Tuesday as a preview of Charlotte Motor Speedway’s spectacular prerace salute to the troops before the Coca-Cola 600 on May 27, 2018.

Bubba Wallace was amazed at the size of Fort Bragg.

“Massive,” Wallace said in describing the 251-square-mile military base outside of Fayetteville during a visit earlier this month. “It felt like an hour’s drive to get to our appearance on the other side of the (air) strip.”

Wallace, the driver of Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 Ford, was one of five NASCAR drivers who toured and visited regional military bases as part of the buildup for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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Actually, the drivers — Wallace, Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman, Brad Keselowski and Austin Dillon — did a lot more than just stroll around and watch during what CMS termed "Mission 600." They each took part in some of the day-to-day operations and drills at each of the bases — one for each of the military’s five branches – Camp Lejeune (Marines), Fort Bragg (Army), Wrightsville Beach (Coast Guard), Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and Naval Station Norfolk (Va.). Wallace visited Seymour Johnson as part of the speedway operation and Camp Lejeune as a sponsor appearance.

“It was a really good time to hang out with the men and women who fight for our country and our freedom,” Wallace said.

'All impressive'

Busch’s visit to Lejeune included joining a unit and actually taking part in some military drills.

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Kurt Busch’s visit to Camp Lejeune included joining a unit and actually taking part in some military drills. Above, Busch, left, talks with a crew member before a practice session at Daytona International Speedway in February. John Raoux AP File Photo

“I was most struck by their professionalism,” said Busch, who dressed in full military gear. “I wasn’t surprised by it, but it was eye-opening to see it at those levels. Whether it was the guys doing the parachute simulations, the mechanics on the boats or the helicopter pilots with their support gunners hanging off the side of the helicopter, it was all impressive.”

At one point, Busch joined a group of soldiers approaching a lagoon. Another group stood next to the water and a boat also idled near the shore, with divers ready to jump in.

“We walked up the lagoon, and there were no bubbles, no ripple action, no water movement whatsoever,” Busch said. “Then somebody gave a signal and these four guys literally levitated out of the water and did an assault scene on the guys on shore and in the boats.

“Never saw them coming. They had us completely decoyed in another direction. It made me glad to be an American and that those guys are on my side.”

Wallace visited Camp Lejeune and Seymour Johnson in Goldsboro. He took part in an active-shooter drill at Camp Lejeune and got an up-close look at fighter jets at Seymour Johnson.

“Being right there to see the fighter jets with their crew chiefs and their pilots, seeing the checklist they go through,” Wallace said. “It’s the same as us, making sure the nuts and bolts are all good. But they probably go about three times as fast as us.

“We did talk about a drag race: how far (a stock car) could get ahead of them before they caught us. We can accelerate pretty fast, but they could obviously catch us pretty quick. Probably about a 100 yards before they blew by us, literally.”

NASCAR Cup Series driver Bubba Wallace visited Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. Wallace shot M4 and M9 assault rifles and toured an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet with the 333rd Fighter Squadron.

The Coca-Cola 600 – held annually on Memorial Day weekend – always honors the military, and the prerace show Sunday will again reflect that. The track will host more than 5,000 active military members and each of the race’s 40 cars will bear the name of a fallen service member on the windshield.

“It was an honor to be able to go and do it,” Busch said of the trip to Lejeune. “When Charlotte Motor Speedway asked, I raised my hand as high as I could. I’ve always been inspired by our military, all branches — past, present and future.”

David Scott: @davidscott14

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