Defense Department Honors Indy Motor Speedway

By Paul X. Rutz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 8, 2006  - The Defense Department presented an award to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, an America Supports You member, at the U.S. Navy Memorial here yesterday evening.

The speedway was recognized as one of the first corporate sponsors to join America Supports You, a Defense Department initiative facilitating grassroots and corporate support for America's troops and their families.

"I'm here on behalf of the secretary of defense to present the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with an award that signifies the importance of when corporations and communities reach out and support our military members and their families," said Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. "We're thrilled to be here tonight to highlight the long tradition of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and their support for our military."

The speedway, which joined America Supports You in May 2005, has several programs that offer public recognition for the troops, Barber said. Those programs include a memorial service in downtown Indianapolis each year before the Indy 500 and a ceremony swearing-in military recruits during its Armed Forces Day. Before the big race in 1999, the speedway hosted a gathering of Medal of Honor recipients.

"It's not about the war; it's not about the policy," Barber said. "It's about the people."

Joie Chitwood, the speedway's president and chief operating officer, accepted the Office of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service.

"On behalf of the (speedway's owners), it's an honor to be here tonight and to accept this recognition," Chitwood said. "We have a unique event that is specifically tied in to Memorial Day weekend. ... It only makes the greatest spectacle in racing that much more special."

Veteran auto race sportscaster Bob Jenkins served as master of ceremonies for the ceremony.

"I'm very, very honored to be here tonight in this facility and in this city," Jenkins said. "You cannot come to this city without the realization that this is the seat of American government, and you can't come here without feeling a little patriotic, especially in a building such as this."

Jenkins invited the crowd to stand and face the American flag and pledge allegiance to it. Later, he called on members of the crowd to ask questions to a panel of famous Indy car drivers, including:

- Johnny Rutherford, three-time Indy 500 winner in the 1970s;
- Janet Guthrie, the first woman to drive in the race, in 1977;
- Michael Andretti, who came out of retirement to race with his son this year;
- Marco Andretti, Michael's 19-year-old son, who will drive in the race for the first time in May;
- Helio Castroneves, from Sao Paolo, Brazil, winner of both the 2001 and 2002 races; and
- Dan Wheldon, a native of Emberton, England, who won the race in 2005.
The drivers answered questions about safety issues, their favorite driving moments, the Indy 500's history, their opinions of other drivers, and what it's like to be part of an event with such close military ties.

"The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has always strongly supported our troops, and we're doing the same," Wheldon said. "I think no matter which beliefs people have, we would like to show our support to the troops."

The Indianapolis 500 will run for the 90th time Sunday, May 28th.