FOX NASCAR production team brings family perspective, pride to Memorial Day race weekend at Charlotte

by

FOX Sports again honors service members who have fallen with ‘FOX Sports Remembers’ during the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday, May 27

An overwhelming sense of national pride, that familiar lump in your throat, even unexpected tears… Anyone who has been to Charlotte Motor Speedway on Memorial Day Weekend knows how emotional it is to witness the solemn yet beautiful pageantry of the military pre-race ceremonies.

Count FOX Sports’ race producer Barry Landis and on-air broadcasters Jeff Hammond and Shannon Spake among those profoundly moved by the sight of 5,000 active service members at the track.

The trio embraces personal emotions during those moments and considers themselves fortunate their family members returned home from service, while America pauses to pay tribute to those who have fallen. Simultaneously, it is their privilege to attempt to relay this weekend’s moving scene at Charlotte Motor Speedway to the TV viewer at home.

Part of that effort will be realized when FOX NASCAR once again honors American service members who have fallen in the past year with “FOX Sports Remembers” during Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race broadcast.

The tribute, which began in 2009, features a running scroll listing the name of every U.S. service member who lost his or her life at home or abroad since last year’s Memorial Day Weekend race. The scroll runs throughout the “Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Pre-Race,” the network’s pre-race show beginning at 5:30 p.m. ET on FOX. The scroll is shown in its entirety at least once during the race broadcast.

Below is a Q&A with FOX NASCAR race producer Barry Landis, and on-air broadcasters Jeff Hammond and Shannon Spake regarding this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600, broadcast live on FOX on Sunday, May 27, at 6 p.m. ET.

Barry Landis (center)

What was the genesis of “FOX Sports Remembers”?
Landis: “My grandfather was an Air Force chaplain in France and Belgium during World War II, so it has always been in my family’s DNA to pay our respects to the military. So, in 2009, I called up Jack Simmons, at the time the FOX Sports SVP of Production, who worked with the U.S. government to obtain an accurate and complete list of U.S. service members who had fallen in the past year. We wanted to memorialize those who have fallen but wanted it to be more than a one-year approach. So, FOX chose a long-term commitment that focuses on those who have fallen in the past year. Since then, the network has worked directly with the government annually to feature the names of all those who have lost their lives since the last Memorial Day.”

What is your family’s military background?
Landis: “My grandfather was stationed in France and Belgium in World War II as a frontline chaplain in the 8th Air Force and earned a Bronze Star in the Battle of the Bulge. As a chaplain, the soldiers made communion sets out of polished 50-millimeter ammunition shells. Our family still has his.”

What is foremost in your mind when producing the Coca-Cola 600 and balancing an entertaining sports event with the solemn nature of the weekend?
Landis: “I have a 15- and 13-year-old at home. For the last quarter of the century, our country has been at war, so our kids haven’t known true peace during their lifetime. They’re almost anesthetized to the concept of war. ‘FOX Sports Remembers’ is a great tribute that reminds all of us freedom isn’t free. It sounds cliché, but so many of our youth don’t fully grasp the concept of war, death and the fallout.”

Do you ever receive feedback from viewers or service members’ family members regarding “FOX Sports Remembers”?
Landis: “We have heard from so many family members who lost loved ones, and while their grief still is raw, they are so honored to see their loss recognized. One year, I was flying home from the race and was wearing a NASCAR on FOX jacket. A couple who attended the race and had lost their son in Iraq years before approached me to ask if we had run the scroll during that weekend’s broadcast. I told them we had, and they were so touched to know we were continuing it.”


Jeff Hammond (right) visiting Fort Bragg in North Carolina

Jeff Hammond, a former two-time championship crew chief and current FOX NASCAR analyst, also has a different perspective on the armed services because of his father and grandfather’s service. His grandfather was a lieutenant commander on a battleship in World War II, while his father served in the Navy and Air Force. Hammond has spent much of his adult life honoring the military in multiple trips overseas to visit U.S. troops.

You have made several trips overseas, some with FOX Sports, to visit troops in Iraq, Korea, Kuwait, Germany and Bosnia, as well as across the U.S. What does this weekend with them at Charlotte mean to you?
Hammond: “I love hanging out with our soldiers at Charlotte, but to visit them where they are serving, like Bosnia, Korea, Germany and Iraq, and to see the smiles on their faces when we talk about our two worlds, that is truly what I am at the core. I used to think we in NASCAR sacrifice because we go, go, go and don’t take care of our families like we should and don’t see our kids until they’re asleep, but a military member’s thrill is getting to FaceTime their families while they are cooking dinner. That’s a reality check.”

You have visited all four branches of the U.S. military and have said the highlight of your overseas work was your trip to Iraq. What about that was most special to you?
Hammond: “My trip to Iraq was my first overseas venture, and I made it with General Sadler of Speedway Children’s Charities in a group sponsored by the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR). That was the closest I’ve been to a combat situation. I learned to appreciate the hardships military members endure and the things they look forward to that we take for granted – like a three-minute shower and a hot meal. You learn to follow orders verbatim, especially when flying in a Blackhawk helicopter and traveling in a convoy. Those experiences have grown my appreciation and admiration for anyone who has put on a uniform to serve.”

Do you see any similarities between your father and the troops you have met over the years?
Hammond: “My dad was a Navy man who strictly enforced rules and regulations. He served in two different branches and understood discipline and how far a firm handshake and a ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No, sir’ will carry you in this world. Everyone deserves that respect. Our service members have always shown me the utmost respect. They are the first to offer me a seat or hold the door for me, when I should be serving them or standing watch for them so they can get an extra hour of sleep.”


Shannon Spake (left) on set at Daytona with Larry McReynolds

Shannon Spake, host of “NASCAR Race-Day Xfinity” (Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET on FS1) and co-host of FS1’s “NASCAR Race Hub” (Monday-Thursdays at 6 p.m. ET), also has the perspective of a childhood lived with a military family. Hers includes a World War II Army veteran-grandfather who earned a Silver and Bronze Star (and was among the Army men that secured the area around the USS Missouri for the Japanese surrender to General MacArthur); a father who flew F-4 fighter jets and served during the Vietnam War; and a mother who was a naval cadet. Spake spent her early childhood on military bases in Meridian, Miss.; Quantico, Va.; and Beaufort, S.C.

Given your family’s deep military ties, what emotions and memories does Memorial Day Weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway evoke for you?
Spake: “It’s incredibly moving to see the soldiers enter our world for the weekend. I am enormously touched because I know how much my grandfather, father and mother sacrificed for our country. My grandfather, Army Corporal Don Speacht, played a large role in major World War II battles, and he saw many of his friends fall. He is 93 and still has nightmares about the war. The pageantry and military ceremonies this weekend are beautiful and moving because I see the military from a different set of eyes, having lived it through their experiences.”

How do you impress upon your sons the sacrifices their grandfather and great-grandparents made for the United States?
Spake: “Anytime we see a service member, I have my kids walk up and thank them. If we see them on the road, we roll down the window, wave and say ‘thank you.’ No doubt they’re the first to stand up and put their hands over their hearts when the national anthem comes on.”

FOX Sports’ Memorial Day Weekend coverage, highlighted by the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday, May 27, also includes Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race, live on FS1 at 1 p.m. ET.