Monday, February 21, 2011

Daytona 500

Wow, what an event. Thirty cars rushing around a two and a half mile track reaching speeds over two hundred miles per. Bumper to bumper, fender to fender, tires screaming and a half million spectators watching them roar around the track on a brilliant blue afternoon.

First impression was the rush of people. Five hundred thousand extremely well behaved fans converged on this small patch of Florida real estate. People lined up everywhere; for shuttle buses, for souvenirs, for snacks, for the restrooms… But everyone that I saw was polite, mindful of others, and had respect for the event. Not something you see every day. I know, I’ve been to Disney World.

At the hot dog stand, a kid leaned toward me and asked, “Who would like to win?” “Dale Earnhardt, Jr.” I replied, “he’s had his share of bad luck, and he’s due for a change.”

“Not a bad choice,” he said, “not bad.” That day was the tenth anniversary of the death of Dale Earnhardt, Sr.

We had terrific seats, right at the end of pit row and in front across from a big screen where we could watch the dueling on the back side of the track.

The air itself blew in fresh from the south. Born far in the north, even a visit to the tropics could only take a little of the glacial sting out of the air. As the breeze climbed up the stands, it carried the scents of the race. Scorched brakes registered the low notes, blue tire smoke came in with an acrid sharpness, and exhaust fumes smelling like lighter fluid swirled among the spectators. The faint aroma of charcoal fires, carried from the infield where the travel trailers were parked, sizzled with burgers and steaks.

When the pace car left the field, everyone stood to watch the race begin. All across the stands, fans raised their fists with three fingers extended in tribute to DE, Sr. The car he drove, the car he died in, wore the number 3. And the fans did not forget.

There are no Porches at Daytona. No Ferraris, no McLarens, no Renaults. This is all about American muscle. Oh, a handful of Toyotas made valiant efforts, but none managed higher than fourth. The top three spots went to Fords. The Fords, the Dodges, and the Chevys owned the track.

As the engines started, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the noise. Louder than a jet roaring down a runway, the combined decibels from thirty unmuffled super engines married to the whine of thirty straining turbochargers was an experience in itself. I could feel the power of it vibrate within my chest as the main body of cars raced by.

The story of the day, though, belonged to young Trevor Bayne. A rookie who celebrated his twentieth birthday the day before the race, took first place in his first ever Daytona attempt. It was only his second NASCAR event. What a day for Trevor.

The only negative was the logistics in getting from the parking lot to the speedway and back again. It took over an hour to negotiate. And a big raspberry is blown to the Daytona police force, who forced traffic out of the city by way of indirect routes. They closed my path homeward, even though there was no logical reason to do so. Their decision caused an additional hour of wasted time trying to get home. Next year, I’ll work out a better way to get in and out of the city.


  1. I've never known anyone who went before. My four year old son adores cars. He would've loved to be there!

  2. There were a lot of boys there, Jenny. He would have fit right in.