Shutdown keeps Marines from Speedway

slyttle@charlotteobserver.comOctober 11, 2013 

The effects of the government shutdown will be felt this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where a group of U.S. Marines will be deprived of a chance to raise money to help service members’ families and the rest of the community.

Carolina Marines, a group of active and former Marines who served as ushers at the speedway in May during the Coca Cola 600, are not permitted to perform the same job during Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 race because of the shutdown.

The U.S. military has told active members not to participate in volunteer activities because their help might be needed instead for vital military functions. Some of those functions are handled by civilian contractors who have been furloughed during the shutdown.

For the Carolina Marines, that means the loss of one of the group’s biggest fundraising programs of the year.

“This is really unfortunate,” said Aaron Harper, who served in Desert Storm and now is president of Carolina Marines. “The money we earn from the speedway provides a sizable chunk of what we earn each year.”

Like other nonprofit groups, Carolina Marines earn money by working at Charlotte Motor Speedway events. The group uses the money to help active service members, their families, and others.

“The government does its job and cares for Marines,” Harper said. “We try to support the families, to fill in the gaps. And we have some money in reserve, in case something really bad were to happen to one of the Marines in our group.”

Harper said the Carolina Marines annual budget “is not that great – about $20,000.”

Scott Cooper, vice president for communications at Charlotte Motor Speedway, says the Marines were a big hit with fans at the May race.

“The Marine volunteers did a terrific job for us as ushers,” Cooper said. “We received great fan feedback on their hospitality and were looking forward to having them back for the Bank of America 500.”

Cooper said the speedway has lined up replacements from other nonprofit groups.

Harper said the shutdown is beginning to have an impact on what might be the Marines’ best-known community project – the annual Toys for Tots campaign that provides low-income children with gifts at Christmas.

“We’re just scratching our heads, trying to figure out how we can make up for this loss,” he said. “We’re not pointing a finger or blaming anyone. We’re just disappointed.”

Cooper said “it’s a shame” the Marines won’t be able to work Saturday night.

“This circumstance is a perfect example of how the government shutdown is impacting good people,” he said.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle

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