Having spent much of his life speeding around on pavement, Bubba Wallace turned his attention to the skies on Tuesday at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Continuing Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Mission 600 – in conjunction with the Department of Defense in previewing the 60th running of the Coca-Cola 600 on May 26 – the Coca-Cola Racing Family driver met with airmen, donned a full Air Force flight suit and took an orientation flight code-named "Joust 43" aboard an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet.
"It was an awesome day," Wallace said. "I enjoy coming to Seymour Johnson and just being a part of the organization, obviously Richard Petty Motorsports with its partnership with the Air Force is great. Being able to go up in the fighter jet, whenever they ask me if I want to keep going up I’m going to say ‘Yes,’ because there’s no cooler thing to do. We were going 500 miles per hour – just a little bit faster than what we do. You get to take in the world that we live in from a different perspective. Having the freedoms that we do, it ties back in to why our military is so important and why our sport supports the military."
Hosted by the 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs, the Air Force-sponsored Richard Petty Motorsports driver received emergency egress and parachute training as well as cockpit familiarization before he arrived at the 333rd Fighter Squadron – whose pilots are known as the "Lancers" – for pre-flight briefing. Following his training, Wallace took to the air with fighter pilot Capt. John "Wraith" Tilton for a 90-minute flight spanning from the Appalachian Mountains to the Outer Banks.
"This flight kicked my butt," Wallace added. "Just to be here and take everything in, you always heard people getting deployed when we were growing up and there’s so much more to it than that. I can’t think these airmen enough and the brave men and women who fight for our country."
Capt. Tilton relished the opportunity to give Wallace a taste of life in the Air Force.
"It’s great, especially to put our squadron and all the troops in the public eye with what we do," Tilton said. "It’s nice to share that with a guy like Bubba and to give the world a better picture of what we do. Bubba told me about a 45G crash he had and I told him we wouldn’t do that today. We pulled an 8.5 today, but he handled it pretty well."
Wallace said the buildup event to the Coca-Cola 600 has him psyched up for what promises to be a patriotic weekend like no other.
"Racing on Memorial Day weekend (in the Coca-Cola 600) has always been special," Wallace added. "We look forward to the troops coming to the track, meeting them and their families and giving them an inside look at what we do. I’m proud to be a part of the sport, of NASCAR and Coca-Cola and of everything that Charlotte Motor Speedway does. I’m proud to be involved."
Along with Mission 600’s thrilling build-up to the Coca-Cola 600, thousands of troops will join fans in the race-day festivities, which will include static military displays and interactive showcases in the Fan Zone. Additionally, 600 troops comprised of members from all five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces will be on the frontstretch during pre-race activities.
Mission 600 kicks off the festivities, with upcoming visits tentatively slated to feature Kyle Larson at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island on April 29; and Austin Dillon at U.S. Coast Guard Station Wrightsville Beach on April 30.
Through the speedway’s "Patriot Partners" program, race fans or corporate customers can buy a ticket for a member of the U.S. Armed Forces for just $25. Tickets will be distributed to active-duty personnel and their families through the USO.
Prior to the green flag, ticketholders to the Coca-Cola 600 can also enjoy a FREE pre-race concert featuring Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Cheap Trick.
As part of the salute to the military, race fans are encouraged to use the hashtag #KnowYourMil.