Cathy Elliott

A reader sent me a text message recently, which said, "Thank you for your honesty about NASCAR."

Was that a compliment? I can't quite decide.

Despite my deep fondness for stock car racing, I do realize I've been a little rough on NASCAR lately. I compared the race in Las Vegas to a Dr. Seuss book, and threatened to sue Chase Elliott. I publicly called out someone with the last name Earnhardt, which is probably ? no, DEFINITELY ? just plain reckless.

I have been told I might need to tone it down a bit, and perhaps that's good counsel. After all, Shakespeare did advise us that "discretion is the better part of valor," which I take to mean that a little caution is usually a better plan than rash courage.

Oops. Too late. Don't judge me; it's an opinion column. I just call it like I see it.

Fortunately, the timing has worked out for me to do a little damage control this week, since although NASCAR is not perfect ? and thank goodness it isn't, because how boring would that be? ? they do one thing better than any other professional sport in the world, and I'm not exaggerating.

That thing is patriotism.

More of an endurance contest than a race, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (CMS) serves as a showcase for some of the team and driver attributes we forget about during shorter, beating-and-banging-style events, things like patience, fortitude and strategic thinking.

These skills are also critical to success in times of war. So it seems somehow appropriate that the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' (NSCS) most grueling event is run on Memorial Day weekend.

Memorial Day was first officially observed in 1868, as a day to remember those who have fallen while serving our nation. NASCAR is a sport that is unflinchingly respectful of our country; CMS traditionally stages an exciting pre-race show with a patriotic theme, and this year, all 40 NSCS drivers will bear the name of a fallen service member on their race car windshields during the Coca-Cola 600.

"Each of the names proudly displayed on these race cars tells a story of honor and sacrifice," said Brent Dewar, NASCAR chief operating officer. "As the NASCAR industry reflects on Memorial Day Weekend, we're proud to honor these and all fallen service members in a way that helps ensure their stories and lives are never forgotten."

Goodyear is getting in on the act, too, replacing the "Eagle" sidewall design with "Support Our Troops" messaging on all tires used during Memorial Day weekend.

There is a demographic of folks born during the 1970s, '80s and '90s, referred to as "Generation Me," purportedly subscribing to the theory that individual needs should always take top priority.

That is certainly a less than patriotic view of things, but fortunately, it isn't all-pervasive. There are still plenty of people out there who believe that patriotism means looking out for yourself by looking out for your country, and NASCAR fans are a wonderful example of that. God bless them, every one.

President John F. Kennedy once said, "A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers." All professional sports have their selling points, but when it comes to a love of country, and a willingness to actively demonstrate that commitment, no one does it better than NASCAR.

One of my favorite parts of a race occurs before the first lap is run. Prior to each event, the teams line up on pit road. Before they go flying around the track, a pre-race prayer for their safety, and for the safety of the nation, wings its way toward Heaven. A full color guard raises our nation's banner to the sky.

Then, with their hands over their hearts, and their families standing at their sides, the drivers and their teams join the crowd in singing America's national anthem.

Before a single green, white or checkered flag waves, NASCAR always takes time to honor the red, white and blue.

Cathy Elliott is the former director of public relations for Darlington Raceway and author of the books Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR and Darlington Raceway: Too Tough To Tame. Contact her at cathyelliott@hotmail.com.