LONG POND, Pa. – In an incredible stroke of luck, and because Pocono Raceway has accommodating people working for it, I was given an extraordinary gift.
While the fans in the grand
stands cheered for their favorites during driver introductions for the Pennsylvania 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race, I had a birds-eye view of the event.
My good friends at the track, Pat Leone and Diane Remphrey, wanted to give me the VIP treatment so I could write about the awesomeness of opening ceremonies at Pocono. They are two employees among many who are brimming with pride for the facility, NASCAR, and their country.
I was perched high atop Victory Tower, facing the grandstands and looking down on the stage. I was there watching the drivers shake hands, the crowd cheer for the likes of Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. But that wasn’t the best of it.
When the benediction ended and after Alex Boyd crooned a lovely rendition of the National Anthem, I was directed to turn my back on the crowd and the stage and focus on the majestic American flag that presides boldly over the grounds.
Waving in the wind, startling beautiful against the clearing skies, and filling me with love of my country, I began to tear up. But then Remphrey threw her finger across my gaze and into the clouds. A lone F-16 blistered across the sky, over our heads, with booming sound to the rousing cheers of the collective community.
In my peripheral vision I noticed Remphrey and Leone wipe tears from their eyes. I had to do the same. The enormity of the shared emotions from love of country, sport, and venue was overwhelming. But there was more to the story.
Choked up once again, she strained out that it was vastly important to her for me to see this. We had patriotism and NASCAR in common but I felt Remphrey had far more vested in the flyover than I.
I felt for Remphrey, who was obviously emotional, so I gingerly prodded for the other reasons this ceremony was especially dear to her.
More tears followed. But Remphrey pulled it together to tell me the story of her brother, Russ Vandermark. He was a Vietnam veteran who joined the Green Berets straight out of high school.
He served three consecutive tours of duty before returning stateside. Vandermark’s nickname was “The Dutchman.” She told me that several times. It is still important to her.
Staunchly proud of her brother, Remphrey told me through tears that her brother died in 2001 due to the effects of Agent Orange. The memory of him is still powerful and her sadness of his loss palpable.
The flyover, Remphrey continued, is an acute reminder of her brother.
I asked permission of Remphrey to write about her brother as it was a story that deserved to be told – a woman who works tirelessly for Pocono to make every moment perfect for the fans in her section, has a pain that never truly goes away.
The waves of emotion strike her like a physical blow, but it also keeps her close to her late brother.
Remphrey felt that by sharing the flyover from atop her favorite spot at the track she touches people. And she did with me – greatly.
As I watched the scores of men and women walking around the track on Sunday I was reminded that NASCAR and the military are forever tied.
Every face in the crowd, every worker with a lanyard and credentials, and every person have a story.
This was Remphrey’s story.
And now it is ours too.