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Air Guard 400 race to determine NASCAR's top 12

The Air Guard's #26 car driven by Jeff Green and owned by Latitude 43 Motorsports is scheduled to race in the Air Guard 400 at Richmond International Speedway on Sept. 11, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Kurt Skoglund)

The Air Guard's #26 car driven by Jeff Green and owned by Latitude 43 Motorsports is scheduled to race in the Air Guard 400 at Richmond International Speedway on Sept. 11, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Kurt Skoglund)

ARLINGTON, Va. (AFNS) -- Better known for its airpower than its horsepower, the Air National Guard will sponsor the Air Guard 400 at Richmond International Speedway Sept. 11.

The 400-mile NASCAR race will include the Air National Guard-sponsored #26 car driven by Jeff Green and owned by Latitude 43 Motorsports.

"With NASCAR having one of the largest fan bases next to the NFL, the marketing and number of people that an event like this reaches are in the millions," said Col. Mary Salcido, the director of recruiting and retention for the Air National Guard.

"This allows the public to see that the National Guard is a two-pronged force, and anytime you can get that message out is a good thing."

The race will set the field for the final 12 drivers competing in the chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, while also honoring those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.

"It's been a high priority for us, and I'm extremely pleased to see how it has evolved," Doug Fritz, the raceway president, told race media. "It's going to be moving for the fans and touching. We'll always remember September 11th and where we were."

Every fan who comes to the track will receive an American flag to wave during the pre-race ceremonies.

The band, Night Ranger, will perform an hour-long pre-race concert and their rendition of "God Bless America" during the opening ceremonies. The governor of Virginia and members of the Air National Guard will lead the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Soldiers from Virginia's 29th Infantry Division Band will play the National Anthem before the green flag is waved, signifying the start of the race.

The honorary starter will be Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Muncy, the command chief of the Air National Guard, and the grand marshal will be Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt III, the director of the Air National Guard.

Four Airmen from the Virginia Air National Guard 192nd Fighter Wing flying F-22 Raptors will perform a flyover.

Also attending the race to drive their recruiting goals will be a team of Army and Air Guard recruiters from Virginia. The team will have their recruiting displays and will be giving away National Guard memorabilia to encourage potential enlistees to ask how they can serve their community and their nation through a career in the Guard, said Sgt. 1st Class John Lewis, a Virginia Guard recruiter.

In addition to the recruiters, the Virginia National Guard also will have five Humvees at the track, which will be driven by Soldiers from the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment. The Soldiers will drive the top five racecar drivers around the track in the Humvees.

"It is important to be visible in these events, to give the public a constant reminder that the Virginia National Guard is participating as a member of the community," Sergeant Lewis said. "We are Virginians, and hopefully, through our public exposure, they may want to be one of us."

Mr. Fritz said this will be a critical race for many of the drivers and teams.

"We're thrilled to be part of the 9/11 remembrance," he said. "But we're also excited about being that last race before the chase."

Jeff Gordon, who already clinched his spot for the upcoming chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship, remains second in the standings going into this race. After 25 races this season, he has scored 10 top-five finishes, 13 top-10s and led 813 laps.

His No. 24 car will have a military intelligence theme and honor "these highly trained Soldiers ... who work behind the scenes and provide the intelligence needed for missions."

"We hope to end the regular season this weekend on a high note and then carry that momentum into the first chase race next weekend at New Hampshire," Mr. Gordon said. "It's all about teamwork with the National Guard, just like it is with our DuPont/National Guard team."

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has won at Richmond several times, said the Richmond track fits his driving style.

"The car changes quite a bit over the night, and you've got to be able to move around and find different grooves," he said. "We've struggled there the past couple of times, but we've been doing a lot of testing to get ready for this weekend."

In 22 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Richmond, Mr. Earnhardt has scored three wins, eight top-five finishes and 10 top-10s. He has an average start of 16.2 and an average finish of 13.2. He has completed 99 percent of all the laps he's attempted (8,716 of 8,803 total) and led 427 laps.

The race is scheduled for broadcast on ESPN and the ABC-TV network at 7:30 p.m., on Sept. 11.

(Editor's Note: Army Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen of the Virginia National Guard contributed to this report.)

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