Astronaut Doug Hurley, currently 250 miles above earth on board the International Space Station as commander of SpaceX’s historic Demo-2 (DM-2) spaceflight, will give the command to fire engines for Sunday’s (June 21) NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway, serving as the Grand Marshal for the GEICO 500.
Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR’s biggest and Most Competitive track, will be one of the first sports venues to have a return of fans – up to 5,000 – in attendance. The GEICO 500, set for a 2:00 PM CDT start, will be broadcast LIVE on FOX, MRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90. Chase Elliott is the race’s defending champion. For information, visit www.talladegasuperspeedway.com or call 1-877-Go2-DEGA.
DM-2 is the first crewed spaceflight launched from American soil since STS-135, the final flight of the Space Shuttle program, in July 2011. Hurley, a longtime NASCAR fan, served as pilot for that mission. DM-2 also represents history’s first crewed commercial flight.
Hurley is a veteran of one other spaceflight — STS-127 in July 2009. A native of Endicot, N.Y. who considers nearby Apalachin his hometown, Hurley is a graduate of Tulane University and the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. Prior to joining NASA a member of the 2000 astronaut candidate class, he was a test and fighter pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Apollo 11 Astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, was the Grand Marshal of the 1994 summer Talladega 500. Aldrin added a personal touch in commanding the drivers to start their engines, stating “Gentlemen, energize your groundcraft.”
While Hurley will give a unique command like never before, two of Talladega Superspeedway’s traditional, patriotic, fan-favorite activities will continue Sunday:
- Since 2001, few sights in sports have been more patriotic than that of John Ray’s gold, brown and chrome Peterbilt truck, adorned with a giant red, white and blue American flag whipping in the wind, making its way down the frontstretch prior to the start of Talladega races. Such will be the case Sunday. Ray, 82, who passed away in January, graced motorsports and Talladega Superspeedway with such pride and dignity that no one will ever quite compare. A man who was defined by an 18-wheeler, and a small town demeanor, he will be remembered as one of the all-time members of the Talladega racing family. He will always, like his pre-race lap, be iconic to Talladega Superspeedway. Sunday, his son, Johnny, continues the tradition as he pilots his dad’s Big Rig during the National Anthem LIVE in front of fans in attendance.
- The 313th United States Army Band will perform the National Anthem for the 12th consecutive time for a NASCAR Cup Series race at the 2.66-mile venue. Formed in 1943, the 313th United States Army Band is comprised of citizen-soldiers from Alabama, who train and perform as a group of Army musicians during monthly Battle Assembly weekends, and do weeks of annual training. Its mission is to provide music throughout the spectrum of military operations, to instill in our forces the will to fight and win, to foster support of our citizens, and to promote our national interests at home and abroad. Sunday’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner will be performed virtually.
NASCAR’s modified event procedures, protocols and number of attendees for the GEICO 500 have been finalized with guidance from public health officials, medical experts and local, state and federal officials. In order to adhere to local social distancing guidelines, the limited number of guests will be allowed in the frontstretch grandstands/towers. In addition, there will be limited motorhome/5th-wheel camping spots – 44 – available outside the track high atop the Alabama Superstretch.
The GEICO 500 will be the anchor event of the weekend, which will also feature a doubleheader today, Saturday, June 20. The General Tire 200 for the ARCA Menards Series gets the green flag at 1:00 PM CDT, followed by the UNHINGED 300 at TALLADEGA for the NASCAR Xfinity Series at 4:30 p.m. Both events will compete without fans in attendance, but will be broadcast LIVE on FS1, MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio.