CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Army News Service, Oct. 16, 2006) - Amid the whistles and cheers of more than 100,000 NASCAR fans, nearly 500 3rd Infantry Division Soldiers marched onto the track at Lowe's Motor Speedway Saturday evening.

The Soldiers, who traveled from Georgia's Fort Stewart, Hunter Army Airfield and Fort Benning, were invited to represent the Army at the Bank of America 500.

"I think this is great, that NASCAR has given the Soldiers a chance to come down here," said 1st Lt. Michael Fritz, Company D, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment. "We've met a lot of good people here. We met an elderly gentleman (who) showed us through the garages and everything and told us about the cars, what they do. He was an engineer on one of the teams."

The Soldiers arrived at the speedway shortly after noon, and spent the six hours before they were scheduled to appear in front of the packed arena visiting vendors, talking to pit crews, buying souvenirs, and exploring the ins and outs of a professional race track.

"I'd watch (NASCAR) a little bit during deployment, but now I think I'm definitely a fan," Fritz said. "I didn't realize so much went into the actual race."

Pfc. Dana John, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, said she had previously been a fan of dirt-track racing, but that she'd never been to a NASCAR race.

"I think it's special that they invited the Soldiers to come out and get recognized as a unit and everything ... It's a cool experience," she said. "I didn't expect to get down here in the pit with (the crews), so that's something special."

A few of the troops took time to visit with members of the Army's own pit crew.

"The highlight of my day has been talking to (Danny "Mongo" Harrington, the crew's gas man, and Randy Hutchens, the backup gas man), the Army of One guys - the fuelers, the tire-changers - asking about their experiences here and how they've come to work for NASCAR," said Staff Sgt. Alejandro Gallardo, C Troop, 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment. "It's all been a really good experience."

An hour before the race began, the Soldiers stood in formation outside the main track giving high-fives to Lug Nut, the Lowe's mascot, and getting ready to stride ahead before the crowd.

As the command "Morward, march!" boomed forth, the Marne Soldiers marched through the gate and onto the track to wild cheers from the crowd. The Soldiers stayed up front until after the national anthem, which was sung by Kellie Pickler, an American Idol finalist.

"I think this is great," said Staff Sgt. Ernest O'Dell, B Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment. "It gives us a chance to come out and watch a good race, and it gives the American public a chance to see and express their opinions toward the military, and we get to give something back to the American public."

Gallardo concurred.

"This is a great event," he said. "It's my first NASCAR race, so I'm pretty excited ... It's a good thing for the Army to come down here and represent and show what we're all about."