ARLINGTON, Va. – Kyle Larson’s first visit to Arlington National Cemetery left such an impression on him that the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion plans to make a return trip.
Larson and Hendrick Motorsports Vice Chairman Jeff Gordon visited Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday with Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Mission 600. The visit was part of winning the 2021 race at the 1.5-mile layout at Charlotte – a tradition started by the track last year.
"It really puts it in perspective, the military and the men and women who have given up the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom as well as previous military members who even retired and now have lost their life," Larson said.
PHOTOS: Larson, Gordon visit Arlington National Cemetery
The pair laid a wreath at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and watched The Changing of the Guard ceremony, which is a tradition that began in 1948. Members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment known as "The Old Guard" stand watch for 24 hours a day. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier includes the remains of unknown service members from World War I, World War II and the Korean War.
"Getting to witness (The Changing of the Guard) was really cool and having Jeff Gordon and I get to put the wreath on to pay our respects was neat," Larson said. "… It was great to have Jeff there with me. He’s somebody I look up to. To get to experience that with him was great and definitely a day that I’ll never forget.”
In addition, the touring group got a private viewing of artifacts in the Memorial Amphitheater Display Room.
The 29-year-old driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 enjoyed getting to interact with the active soldiers on the ground and noted an interesting role reversal.
"A lot of them were younger than me but I look up to them," Larson said. "Getting to talk to them and have casual conversations. I think a lot of times you do meet-and-greets and stuff like that and those people are more interested in your story. In this situation, I was more interested in their story and it was kind of a flip of a meet-and-greet than what I’m used to. Just getting to ask them questions, learn about their upbringing, where they are from."
Arlington National Cemetery serves as the final resting place for more than 400,000 active duty service members, veterans and their families. The cemetery holds more than 3,000 ceremonies and memorial services each year. The cemetery averages between 27 and 30 services each weekday and between six to eight services on Saturdays.
"I look forward to going back there someday," Larson said. "I’d love to take my dad there. He’s really into history and it makes me really want to get into history now going to experience that. As my kids get older, I want them to experience it as well and learn more about our country."
Mission 600 is Charlotte Motor Speedway's campaign that pairs drivers with military bases. It is designed to help educate the NASCAR community about the day-to-day lives of those that serve in the U.S. Armed Forces ahead of Memorial Day weekend. Speedway Motorsports President and CEO Marcus Smith, Charlotte Motor Speedway Executive Vice President and General Manager Greg Walter and U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson of North Carolina’s eighth district were on the visit as well.
The 600-mile Charlotte race occurs during the NASCAR Salutes platform that celebrates the service and sacrifice of U.S. service members and their families during Military Appreciation Month. The event will feature the 600 Miles of Remembrance, in which each NASCAR Cup Series car will honor a fallen service member with their name on the windshield.