MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Marines thrive on competition. From Super Squad meets to rifle range scores, from marathons to triathlons, at any given point where one finds a group of Marines, one will find healthy competition. It should come as no surprise, then, that auto racing has a large following in the Corps. The revving of powerful engines, watching men and women elevated to superhero status zipping around an oblong track in multi-million dollar vehicles and the acrid scent of burning rubber as a racer loses control and veers into a wall are sensations most will only experience or imagine through television.
For nearly 60 Marines from Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, however, a chance to attend the Coca-Cola 600 in Concord, N.C., May 29 meant a chance to get close to the action. Race tickets donated by a Charlotte radio station and a children’s organization in honor of Memorial Day brought the Marines to the track for a memorial ceremony, but also to experience the thrill of NASCAR up close, said Staff Sgt. Kevin M. Pelletier, motor transportation chief, E Battery, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines.
“We were given the tickets to the race to welcome the Marines back home from either the Horn of Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere in the war on terror. The organizations gave the tickets to 60 deserving Marines,” said Pelletier.
Seeing a race in person changed the minds of some Marines who were not lifelong NASCAR fans. Cpl. Roberto Matozzo, tank crewman, 2nd Tank Battalion, said, “It was my first time going to a race and it changed my mind about it. It was a lot more exciting than I thought it would be.”
The day began with the presentation of the Stonewall Jackson Award by Lowe’s Motor Speedway president H.A. Wheeler to Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The award was given in recognition of patriotism through the support of the military and national security.
Gen. Pace was joined on stage by a detail of Marines as well as representatives from other services.
“That was a pretty good feeling to take a bunch of Marines down there and have them be part of the opening ceremony to represent [II Marine Expeditionary Force] and the Marine Corps,” said Pelletier.
The Marines were on their feet as the race began and the rumble of engines on the pace lap gave way to the full throttle roar.
As the race wore on, exclamations from the group alternated from disappointment to joy and back to disappointment as favored drivers fell back, moved up a few places, or even wrecked, eliminating them from the race.
Above it all, however, was the gratitude the Marines felt for the opportunity to attend the race, said Cpl. Jarrod M. Jones, personnel clerk, 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (Anti-Terrorism).
“I was really appreciative that we got to be there for the Memorial Day race. It really
meant something to me,” he said.