TYLER, Texas (KETK) – Sunday’s NASCAR Coca Cola 600 will be special in a different way for many East Texans as a fallen service member that grew up in the Rose City will be honored as part of the race’s “600 Miles of Remembrance.”
Chapel Hill alum and U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Russell Bell will have his name displayed atop the windshield of Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota car.
It’s the sixth consecutive year that this race at Charlotte Motor Speedway pays tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, with every one of the NASCAR Cup Series cars bearing the name of a fallen soldier.
“We were excited about it because like I said just shows that others care also and want to share in his memory,” said Bell’s widow LaToya Bell who incidentally is from Charlotte, North Carolina.
1st Sgt. Bell was killed in action in August of 2012 in Afghanistan leaving behind his wife and their son Gage, who was just seven months old at the time.
“I mean that was his life. Like, he did tell me one time, he’s like if I go out, I want to go out doing what I love which is being in the military. He loved doing his job. He loved his soldiers. He was a leader from the rear not from the front. He wasn’t going to let his soldiers do anything that he wouldn’t do,” said Mrs. Bell.
That’s exactly what his quote reads on a brick his alma mater dedicated for him near the entrance at Chapel Hill High School. Among other honors from his hometown, the East Texas Community Foundation helped name the flag pole in front of the Tyler Children’s Park as Russell’s Flag Pole in October of 2015.
“He loved Tyler, and I mean every time he talked about Texas to me it was like a great thing. He would say it’s the greatest nation in the universe. He was like anyone that’s from Texas is family. Like we met some random lady, and she was from bla-bla Texas, and they start talking about Texas and high-fiving,” said Mrs. Bell.
Among many fond memories, Bell, who also played football and soccer at Chapel Hill, recorded a message on a Build-A-Bear for his son that he can still listen to.
“He just says hi Gage, Daddy misses and loves you, be a good boy and I’ll see you soon. He made this for him when he was seven months old before he left. I miss him like smiling, and lighting up a room, and making light of situations,” said Mrs. Bell.
Mrs. Bell will be cheering for Hamlin Sunday, who ironically won Wednesday’s night’s Toyota 500 race in Darlington. She believes her husband would be humbled about this recognition.
“I could see him smiling about it, and saying. Oh Goodness, they are making a big deal about me. Who am I? I was just doing my job.”
A service, so all East Texans can freely see our flag wave on Russell’s Flag Pole.
Watch the video to see the story.
The Coca-Cola 600 gets under way at 5:00 p.m. Central time Sunday, and can be seen on FOX 51.
- In lieu of being unable to attend the race, family members of the fallen service members will receive a special gift package from NASCAR and Coca-Cola as a thank you for their willingness to participate in the program.
- Replica acrylic race car header with the family name
- Coca-Cola 600 VL hat (x4)
- Coca-Cola bottle featuring the platform mark (x2)
- Special recipe cards from Chef Irvine (in lieu of the hosted dinner)
- Card with an access link to a private Justin Moore pre-race concert only for Gold Star families
- NASCAR Salutes Refreshed by Coca-Cola bandana with embroidered name
- As part of the special salute, Charlotte Motor Speedway, in partnership with FOX, will have a live flyover before the race, as well as a special mid-race moment of silence after the conclusion of Stage 2, in which the cars will be stopped on pit road to honor the fallen.