Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Heart of NASCAR

DAYTONA–For many people it’s just a destination for vacation. It’s a beach along the eastern seaboard of Florida. For some of us it’s a vacation, a super bowl and an experience of a lifetime that has nothing to do with the beach that lies only a few miles away. It’s all about Daytona International Speedway.
I have been to Daytona five times in my life. Once as an exuberant three year old that only thought of swimming. In the pool or the ocean there was no difference. The next time would be twenty nine years later (2006) when Jimmie Johnson won his first Daytona 500. The two times was for another 500 (2009, Matt Kenseth) and two Coke Zero events (2009, Tony Stewart and 2010, Kevin Harvick). Every time the show was in town and the speedway itself was just the venue that held it. I’m not saying I didn’t get the magic of the place, I did. What I’m trying to say is it wasn’t until my visit today that the place got to stand in the spotlight by itself. There was nothing, no drivers, feuds, vendors, commentators that distracted me.
I didn’t attend a race this year in Daytona. My home state of Kentucky was lucky enough to get a date in July a week after the Coke Zero. With the economy being what it is and me being a proud Kentuckian I decided to go to that race. I won’t get into the logistical nightmare Kentucky was though, that’s for another post. When my family decided to take vacation this year Florida was the natural choice. Being the race fan I am I searched the web to see if anything racing was going on. Unfortunately there wasn’t but I found out there was a tour of the speedway. I spoke with my mom who was also going on the trip and we decided to go.
Now my mom has been on the tour before, remember she is the all things Nascar lady, but hadn’t been to the driver’s meeting room or the press box. We got to the track about noon and had just missed the last tour and had to wait for the one o’clock tour. We took the time to visit the gift shop. Mom, a big #24 fan was easily able to find a shirt. I on the other hand, had less luck. While they did have merchandise of my favorite driver (Kevin Harvick), it wasn’t anything that appealed to me and the other driver’s shirt I wanted (#33 Clint Bowyer) was limited to one shirt that wasn’t available in my size. I did find a cup I liked and purchased but that was it.
After shopping we went and waited for the tour to begin. We met our tour guy, John, and let me tell you the guy was awesome. He was very friendly and knowledgeable of all things NASCAR and Daytona. Once the tour began I was excited. I knew I was a part of something here. We made our way around the track, learning a lot of interesting tidbits from John. Some places such as the fan zone and garage areas I was already familiar with because of my previous attendance. What really caught my attention was the access to the driver’s meeting room and the press box. These two areas are worth the price of admission alone.
The driver’s meeting room is a typical convention type meeting room. There is a podium on a raised stage facing row upon row of chairs with blue and yellow stickers. There is a reason for the stickers and I’ll let you figure it out on your own what they mean. What makes the room special is the pictures on the walls, showing the history of Daytona. Dork that I am I got up on the stage and for a second got to imagine that I was the one who got to look out at these athletes and tell them what that the rules were. Then I got silly and made the rule, “Anyone gets in the #29’s way is going to get a 1 lap penalty. Move out of the way and let the #29 to the front.” If only I was the President, right Kevin?
The other place that amazed me was the press room. Going twelve stories above the speedway and getting to see the whole track is something everyone needs to do. You can see the Daytona in all of its glory and she is beautiful! As I stood there looking I I’m sorry to say that I kind of tuned John out. I was trying to take it all in and there were a few images that popped into my mind. The 2001 Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Sr. hitting the wall on the final lap. What did it look like from up here? And DW calling the race as “Mikey” won. I was looking out at the same view…today though the view was different…it was beautiful…

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