Driving 40 hours round-trip from Brainerd to Richmond, Va. to attend a NASCAR race might not make sense to most people since flying is a quicker mode of transportation.

But it made sense to myself and three family members since driving was less expensive than flying to attend the Sept. 11 racing event. But what was even more valuable than saving a few bucks, was the experience of seeing many memorable and historic milestones along the way.

We left Brainerd four days before the event. We didn’t know how far we could drive on the first day and our overnight stop was South Bend, Indiana. We found out that our hotel was only a mile from the famous University of Notre Dame. It was a memorable experience driving around the campus that night and seeing the famous golden dome, plus the football field where many great Fighting Irish teams played.

A young spectator looks at a support beam from the World Trade Center’s North Tower that was on display at Richmond Raceway in Virginia, before the NASCAR race on Sept. 11, 2021 - exactly 20 years after the North Tower collapsed during the 9/11 terrorist attack. Pete Mohs / Echo Journal
A young spectator looks at a support beam from the World Trade Center’s North Tower that was on display at Richmond Raceway in Virginia, before the NASCAR race on Sept. 11, 2021 - exactly 20 years after the North Tower collapsed during the 9/11 terrorist attack. Pete Mohs / Echo Journal

The next day, we drove through states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia. We were surprised how much history we could see while driving through many older communities with connections to the Civil War.

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Friday’s schedule was open with the main goal of seeing Virginia Beach. On the way we stopped and walked through the world’s largest outdoor museum in Colonial Williamsburg - a historic district with restored homes and businesses, plus actors in costume depicting daily colonial life in the streets, stores and workshops.

We saw the various military bases and drove through the Chesapeake Bay underwater tunnel before spending a few hours on the beach.

Looking back, the drive turned into one big history lesson by experiencing the rich history of our country’s early years - especially since it was my first trip to the Atlantic Ocean shores of Virginia.

But the trip also had a milestone theme on the 20th anniversary weekend of the 9/11 attacks that were one of the greatest tragedies in our country’s history as a series of four coordinated terrorist attacks on our country.

The first landmark that we saw came while driving through Pennsylvania. That’s where the hijacked United Flight 93 with 40 total passengers and crew crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pa. We drove through the area just two days before a memorial service was planned on Sept. 11. We didn’t see the exact landmark, but it was an eerie feeling to look toward the skies and think about the final moments of Flight 93 passing overhead.

As later traveled just two hours from Arlington, Va., where terrorists also crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon on 9/11.

In Richmond, Va., we witnessed other 9/11 tributes at the XFinity and NASCAR racing doubleheader on Sept. 11 at Richmond Raceway.

One of the most powerful memorials in the parking lot featured a flatbed semi-trailer displaying a 15-foot section of a steel beam from the World Trade Center’s North Tower in New York, where the first hijacked plane (American Airlines Flight 11) crashed. That piece of steel was large, but really was a small piece of the large structure that collapsed on 9/11.

There were more tributes inside the track. The afternoon Xfinity race featured the comeback of Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose car was painted with a special red, white and blue tribute. Earnhardt, one of the most popular drivers in NASCAR history, was making a comeback as a driver. Then before the night NASCAR event, there were many 9/11 tributes to emergency workers and the military.

It turned out to be one of my favorite cross-country trips. It was a valuable history lesson, and nice to experience the 9/11 tributes. And it’s always fun to see some exciting NASCAR racing.