Tuesday, July 1, 2008

No place like Daytona - Part 1

Originally published July 4, 2006 in the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail
By Mike Jones

NASCAR fans are a rare breed. Anyone who has ever attended a race knows that. The fans pay thousands of dollars for tickets, hotel rooms, parking and, most importantly, beer.

Bewildered outsiders don't even begin to understand. They ask why someone would shell out that kind of cash to watch cars drive in circles. What they don't realize is NASCAR is an experience that can't be explained on television. It must be felt in person.

I will never forget the first time I heard 43 cars roaring by at nearly 200 mph at Daytona International Speedway or the echoing thunder as they flew down the backstretch. The Fourth of July event at Daytona Beach, Fla., has changed somewhat since I attended my first Firecracker 400 in 1993. Track officials added lights to the high-banked oval in 1998, altering the race for both competitors and fans.

Previously, drivers weren't the only ones who sweated buckets when the green flag dropped at 11 a.m. in the 90-degree heat. Fans perspired beer faster than they could consume their cans of Miller Lite and Budweiser that are stowed in coolers under their seats.

With an 8 p.m. start now, visitors take trips to the beach or barbeque in parking lots in the morning and afternoon. Others wade in the hotel swimming pool for most of the weekend and the beer cans that line the edge of the pool document their progress.

In the 2005 edition of the Pepsi 400, rain began falling an hour before race time, prompting my father, stepbrother and me to march back to the hotel for a late-night swim. Other fans, many of whom weren't fortunate enough to have a hotel room next to Turn 4, waited out the three-hour rain delay in their seats and soldiered through the race that didn't end until nearly 2 a.m. Sunday. Exhausted fans that partied for nearly 19 hours simply crumpled in their seats and passed out moments after Tony Stewart took the checkered flag.

That wasn't the case in 2006 when the race passed rather quickly and we were able to get to bed before midnight. There were the usual drunks at the event. A Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan stumbled out of his hotel room on his way to the track and mumbled incoherently to others.

But instead of a rain soaked holiday, fans were treated that year to a cool summer breeze passing from the Atlantic Ocean as the race started as scheduled. The distinctive smell of Octane 110 firing from the exhaust pipes filled the air just moments after the command was given for drivers to start their engines. One man, spitting chew while lounging in his seat, waved the fumes toward his nose in a circular motion with a cupped handed.

Now this, I thought, is what racing is all about.

- Click here to read Part 2 -


Marc Felman said...

Enjoy your weekend of beer, cars, and sand, Docta Jones!

Scott Beveridge said...

I like the narrative, storytelling approach to this post.

Amanda Gillooly said...

Nice. I'm one of the people who didn't understand why people shelled out that much cash to see cars drive around in a circle. Then my dad's neighbor told exactly what you just wrote about: The fact that NASCAR fans are about the coolest people out there. He said he'd walk around and people would offer a beer or a burger...I guess I shouldn't knock it until I try it.
But my big question is, what is the official beer of Jonesin' for Speed?

Mike Jones said...

It used to be Budweiser, but I have to watch the carbs and calories nowadays. So I'd go with Miller Lite and Bud Select.

Amanda Gillooly said...
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