Racing fans across East Tennessee are gearing up for a big weekend of NASCAR in Bristol. Sunday's Sprint Cup series Food City 500 is truly giving four members of the McGhee Tyson Air National Guard something to sing about.
The national anthem prior to the Food City 500 will be performed by Senior Airman Amanda Winkler, Technical Sergeant Jeannine Brown, Second Lieutenant Sarah Miller, and First Lieutenant Stephanie McKeen. All four are based at McGhee Tyson and began singing together about a year and a half ago.
"I have actually been singing the national anthem for around 20 years at various events," said McKeen. "It can really be nerve-wracking to sing on your own. You've probably seen several celebrities completely mess up. I had this idea of what if we had a quartet to sort of help share some of the stress."
McKeen found strength in numbers with Brown, a fellow member of the Guard and former classmate at the University of Tennessee with a musical background in opera.
"I was just sort of along for the ride," said Brown. "She [McKeen] sought out other members to make a group."
"Lieutenant McKeen approached me and asked if I had any musical background. I was in chorus when I was growing up in Harriman. Then was in the high school band and went on to become a member of the UT Pride of the Southland Marching Band," said Winkler. "We just kind of pulled it all together and have really meshed. People hear us and say it has a natural sound to it."
"I grew up singing, but it never crossed my mind that I would sing when I joined the National Guard," said Miller. "We blend so well, so it has actually worked out great. Our voices are similar enough that we help enhance each other. It clicks where no one voice stands out above or below the others, unless we do it intentionally."
The current name of the group is rather self-explanatory.
"We're the McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Quartet. We just figured it made sense for the name to explain where we're from and what we do, which is serve our country and state," said Winkler. "We spend more time focusing on singing than thinking of different names for the group."
The group's efforts to carry perfect pitch have carried them to perform at a wide variety of military events and ceremonies. The singers admit they never thought they would sing in a 160,000-seat venue and a national television audience. Some members of the group have never been to a NASCAR race, much less sang at one.
"This will be my first race so I'm very excited," said Miller. "From what I've heard, Bristol is the best venue to see it at because you can see the whole track."
"I'm from Alaska, so I never watched NASCAR. But I know I'm pulling for the National Guard car," said Brown.
The quartet members said their primary mission is to demonstrate how the Star Spangled Banner is truly supposed to be performed.
"We sing the song the way it was written and intended to be performed. The national anthem is honestly one of the most widely messed up songs by singers everywhere," said McKeen. "People know flag etiquette in that you don't use it as a bedspread or drag it on the ground. Why do they do it with the national anthem? I want people to get goose bumps and say, 'That's it! That's how it is supposed to be sung.'"
"The national anthem has just got this natural sound to it. I guess so many people have heard it done so wrong for so many times, the tempo and inflections are repeatedly performed incorrectly," said Winkler.
"This is the song of our nation," said Brown. "I think it's really important to honor veterans, to honor those who have fallen, and those who are serving right now by singing it the way it should be sung."
Reporter's Note: See the "Web Extra" video attached to this story to hear the quartet perform the entire Star Spangled Banner. You can also click this link to go directly to the video of their performance of the national anthem for 10News.