Inside the Daytona 500 flyover: More to it than you think

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Ever wonder how the flyovers at NASCAR races are timed so perfectly to come over right at the end of the national anthem?

Well, there is a whole lot more to it than you might think.

Lt. Colonel Jason Heard, Commander Leader of the Air Force Thunderbirds who are performing the flyover at today’s Daytona 500, said he will speed up or slow down the group’s approach to Daytona International Speedway based on what he’s hearing from Director of Operations Major Kevin Walsh, who is perched high atop the speedway monitoring the speed with which entertainer Jordin Sparks is singing the national anthem.

Keep in mind that Heard and the four other Thunderbirds are flying at 500 miles an hour, 3 feet apart, when they’re in formation.

“We want to make sure we come over the track right when she hits ‘Home of the Brave,’ “ Heard said.

That puts some pressure on Sparks as the anthem singer as well.

She said that when she sang it at the Super Bowl in 2008, she was timed at 1 minute, 55 seconds. But she had to warn the Thunderbirds not to go by that.

“I sing it faster now,” she said.

She also said that sometimes she speeds up or slows down while signing the anthem based on the response and “feel” of the crowd. That’s where Walsh comes in. He will radio Heard during the Thunderbirds’ approach to the track and tell him whether Sparks is on schedule, a little ahead or a little behind.

“They came to the sound check and timed me, so I think I’m at 1:36 today,” Sparks said. “Don’t place any bets on that; I may be a second or two off. There’s always a little bit more pressure when it’s live and on TV, and I know there are lots of eyes on it.”

Not to mention when the Thunderbirds are planning their 500 mph flyover based on when she hits that closing note.

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