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Michael Rooker Named Grand Marshal for Pala Casino 400


FONTANA, Calif. (Feb. 21, 2023) – All puns intended, the final command to start engines at Auto Club Speedway’s historic 2-mile oval will be a “Rowdy” one to remember. That’s because Michael Rooker will serve as the Grand Marshal for the Pala Casino 400 on Sunday.

The actor known for his role as Rowdy Burns in “Days of Thunder” will bellow the famous command “drivers start your engines!”

“Michael Rooker is an immensely successful actor, but his turn as Rowdy Burns is one of the most memorable on-screen depictions of motorsports on the big screen,” said Auto Club Speedway President Dave Allen. “We are proud to welcome him as our Grand Marshal, and we can’t wait to hear him give the command for the historic last race on the 2-mile oval.”

NASCAR and Auto Club Speedway announced earlier that the Pala Casino 400 will be the last race held on the track’s current configuration. Planning continues for a proposed half-mile short track located on a portion of the speedway’s current property, but timing for commencement of that project remains uncertain.

That lends extra gravitas to Rooker’s role on Sunday, and he embraces the opportunity.

“I am grateful for the chance to give the command for this historic event,” Rooker said. “As someone who was raised in NASCAR country, I’ve always appreciated fans asking about my portrayal of Rowdy Burns in ‘Days of Thunder’. As I return to another NASCAR race, I can unequivocally state that I agree with Robert Duvall’s character Harry Hogge who said, ‘rubbin, son, is racin’.”

Rooker is an American actor best known for his turn as the blue-skinned alien Yondu Udonta in the top grossing Marvel films Guardians of the Galaxy, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and also as the character fans loved to hate on AMC’s worldwide hit television show The Walking Dead, Merle Dixon.

Rooker has thrilled fans for decades with complex portrayals of characters audiences can’t help but embrace despite their dark personas. He made his film debut in 1986 playing the title role in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. He has since appeared in numerous films including Mississippi Burning, Sea of Love, Days of Thunder, JFK, Cliffhanger, Tombstone, Mallrats, Rosewood, The 6th Day, and Jumper. Rooker also has a prolific relationship with writer/director James Gunn, appearing in Gunn-helmed productions Slither, Super, The Belko Experiment and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy franchise and Warner Bros’ The Suicide Squad. Rooker also voiced Yondu Udonta in the animated series What if….? from Marvel. In 2022, he began filming for the upcoming western series Horizons, reunited with JFK co-star Kevin Costner.

He has guest starred on numerous TV shows including Stargate SG-1, CSI: Miami, Las Vegas, JAG, Numb3rs, Law & Order, Chuck, Criminal Minds, Psych, Burn Notice, and Archer. He added his voice talents to Activision’s video game The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct. Rooker’s voice-over work in video games has also included Mike Harper, the lead character in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, and the villain Vikke in Lollipop Chainsaw.

Rooker, who has eight brothers and sisters, was born in Jasper, Alabama and studied at the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago, where he moved with his mother and siblings at the age of thirteen.

The Pala Casino 400 weekend at Auto Club Speedway marks the historic continuation of NASCAR’s 75th anniversary season. The action begins on Saturday with the NASCAR Xfinity Series’ Production Alliance Group 300, then continues on Sunday with the NASCAR Cup Series’ Pala Casino 400.

Tickets are on sale now, and fans are encouraged to visit for the latest ticket information.


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