He is also an accomplished pilot like his father, Bill, logging hundreds of hours in the air. Still, he was blown away by his experience Wednesday of riding a Blackhawk helicopter over the city of Nashville, courtesy of the Tennessee Army National Guard.
“That was amazing, a really cool experience to go joyride in a Blackhawk,” said Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. “I’ve never been in anything similar to that. The views over downtown Nashville were beautiful. I love the city, one of the coolest towns in the country, in my opinion.”
While many look at Elliott, voted NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver in 2018, as a hero, Elliott talked about the heroism of the men and women in the Tennessee Army and Air National Guard units. As part of Bristol Motor Speedway’s Neighborhood Heroes program, Sergeant First Class Daniel L. Cole of 1-230th Assault Helicopter Battalion was honored.
Cole, from Pigeon Forge, has deployed four times in operations outside the United States, including Afghanistan, Iraq and two deployments to Kosovo. He will be honored prior to the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race on Aug. 17. Elliott pointed out several on hand Wednesday have recently served overseas.
“The major was saying a lot of the men and women just got home from being deployed,” he said. “We couldn’t do what we do without them. This is as close as people like me will ever get to this experience without being in the Army National Guard.”
Although a pilot, Elliott found the cockpit of the Blackhawk not like that of his personal aircraft. It’s not surprising with the varied functions performed by the military aircraft.
“The controls are very different from what I’ve flown,” he said. “What they’re meant for and their use is very different, too. There is a lot of capability with these helicopters, what they can haul and how many people can be in them. It’s very different.”
ELLIOTT AND THE NIGHT RACE
Elliott, who ranks eighth in the Monster Energy Cup Series points, was brought in to promote the upcoming race. He is coming off a pair of strong performances at Bristol Motor Speedway as he posted a career-best third-place in 2018 and followed it up by winning the pole for the Food City 500 in April.
He has a long history at the track — singing the national anthem as one of the drivers’ kids as part of a Motor Racing Outreach group, and racing at Bristol in the Pro Cup, K&N, Truck and Xfinity Series before making it to the Cup Series.
“It was awesome to win the pole. It was my first pole outside of a speedway,” he said. “I felt I was able to contribute to that one a little more than the other ones. The pole is the best thing I’ve done there results-wise. I had a good car there last August although I didn’t win.”
In his fourth season in the Cup Series, the Dawsonville, Ga., driver has three wins and six poles. He has made the NASCAR playoffs in each of his first three seasons. He believes the Hendrick Motorsports organization is making gains on the top teams of Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske.
“I think we’ve closed the gap a good bit from where we were last year,” Elliott said. “I thought last fall we were pretty close to them. Some race tracks we’re close. Other places we’re off from them.”
Bristol is a place where he feels the driver can make up more than other tracks.
He was driving the BMS pace car at another Tennessee short track, Fairgrounds Speedway on Wednesday. Elliott talked about how he wished NASCAR’s top series would race again in Nashville, which is scheduled to host the Cup Series banquet in December.
Elliott was the 2013 winner of Nashville’s All-American 400, one of the top Late Model Stock car races in the country.
“I’ve raced here a number of times, and I always enjoyed coming to the Fairgrounds,” he said. “I think it’s one of the coolest short tracks in the United States. You’re not going to find a race track this cool this close to a major city. It’s a major piece, looking at all the speedways across America.”
Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, was at the Fairgrounds Speedway on Wednesday and said there are no new items to report on bringing a major NASCAR race back to the facility.
“We continue to be very encouraged,” Caldwell said. “We have great discussions with the city, and it is an ongoing process where we’re working on a collaborative approach with how all this can work together
Speedway Motorsports made a pitch of a $60 million renovation project in May with ideas to raise the seating capacity to 30,000 and an overhaul of the track. Caldwell pointed out that SMI, which entered into a merger agreement with Bruton Smith’s Sonic Financial last week, currently does not own the facility.
“Right now, this facility is owned by Nashville Metro,” Caldwell said. “We’re in the event business, and we’re in a conversation of how we can work together. We will see what the future holds.”