Memorial Day weekend has many meanings for the American public. The Sunday of Memorial Day weekend is one of auto racing’s greatest days, beginning with the Grand Prix of Monaco, followed by the Indianapolis 500 and then the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Then comes Monday, one of the most somber days on the calendar. It’s a day when the nation pauses to honor those members of the armed forces who made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of their fellow Americans.
For several seasons, teams participating in the Coca-Cola 600 have used their cars to honor fallen service members. This year, the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion will honor Signal Seaman Cherone L. Gunn, from Norfolk, Va., as part of the sport’s “600 Miles of Remembrance.”
SMSN Gunn was one of 17 crew members killed in a terrorist attack on the USS Cole on Oct. 12, 2000, while the ship was being refueled in the port of Aden in Yemen.
His name will appear on the windshield of the No. 21 Ford Fusion in the position usually used to display the name of driver Ryan Blaney.
Gunn, who followed his father into the U.S. Navy, is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, in a grave next to one of his shipmates, who also died in the attack on the Cole.
The Washington Post reported that at the graveside ceremony, Gunn’s brother Anton said there was a message in the deaths of his brother and the other 16 sailors who perished aboard the Cole.
“Remember, they died for the country,” he said. “They died defending a country we love. They died for us. That’s what’s important.”
Cherone Gunn, who had dreams of later becoming a police officer, was 22 years old.
The No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion also will carry a decal in memory of Ryan Blaney’s cousin Christoffer Auderer, who served three tours in Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps and later died as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder. He was just 24 years old.
Team co-owner Eddie Wood said placing the fallen service members’ names on the No. 21 brings home the real meaning of Memorial Day.
“It’s a privilege to be able to use our car and our sport to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. “Seeing the images of these young service members and having their family members at the track with us on Sunday really puts the weekend in perspective for us.”
Wood and his fellow members of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team also look at the Memorial Day tributes as motivation to be at their best in the Coca-Cola 600, the final race on a day in which the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will host the 100th Indianapolis 500. That race has special meaning for the Wood Brothers, as they served as the pit crew for Jim Clark when he won the 49th running of the 500, back in 1965.
Crew chief Jeremy Bullins said he’s anxious to get back to work at Charlotte Motor Speedway after an impressive run in last week’s Sprint Showdown.
“I think it's safe to say everyone involved with our Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion is excited for the weekend after our performance in the Sprint Showdown,” Bullins said. “We might not have transferred into the All-Star race, but after having a shot to win the first segment and driving from the tail to finish third overall after getting a restart penalty we feel like we had great speed in our car.”
That speed means Bullins and Blaney can focus on qualifying on Thursday and save race practice for Saturday's sessions.
“The 600 will be a long race, and with the tire fall off we saw this past weekend, a good pit stall will be critical,” Bullins said. “We feel like the car we are taking this week is even better than the Showdown car, and that's exciting as well.”
“It's also another track we are running for the third or fourth time as a team, and we keep getting better.”
“Between Monaco and the 100th running of the Indy 500, our race concludes a great day of racing, and we'd like to end it with a strong run and feel like we are ready to do just that.”
Qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600 is set for Thursday at 7:15 p.m., and the race scheduled to start Sunday at 6 p.m. with TV coverage on FOX.
Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion Pays Tribute To Cherone Gunn and Christoffer Auderer in Coca-Cola 600
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