“I got tickets to the Daytona 500. Is that something you would be interested in doing?”
“Yeah, but Bryson has soccer. ”
That was the exchange with my friend Robin Singh a few weeks back. As last week drew to a close, I noticed I heard almost nothing about the Daytona 500, which was of course because it’s this weekend and not last. I called Robin.
“What race do you have tickets to?”
“Dude big mistake. My buddy got tickets to the Shootout, not the 500.”
“What time is that race?”
“It’s Saturday night at 8.”
“Well, I can go to that one.”
Robin and Jose picked me up in a convertible en route from Miami and despite warnings of cold weather, both guys were wearing shorts and t-shirts (a tank top in Robin’s case). We dropped the top. I got behind the wheel under the ostensible purpose that I knew where we were going and on to Daytona we went.
By Lake Mary Boulevard, Jose was hungry and we hit Taco Bell for a couple of Cantina Grande Burritos, each weighing roughly a pound. Within 45 minutes, we were at the World Center of Racing. We made a green flag pit stop at Kmart to drop off the remains of the Cantina Grande Burritos and buy tailgating supplies and pants for Jose.
We found parking at a dentistry office just off the main drag, dropped the top on the convertible and blasted some Marley as we waiting for my friend Todd to arrive. Todd just laughed at Robin and Jose as stood their in shorts and light jackets muttering something about them “possibly dying” it would be so cold on the metal bleachers. Todd a veteran of “35” Daytona races became Robin’s tour guide at this point as Robin was at his first race.
We walked over to the ARCA 200 and found seats at the exit of pit road just as the driver’s received the “Gentlemen start your engines” call. Forty late modal Nascar engines growled and barked into action pulling off pit road for a few parade laps. Todd correctly predicted that the race field would spread quickly with a pack of 6-8 veteran driver’s who “know what the hell they are doing” breaking to the front. He was also spot on predicting a major crash a half lap before it happened. Throughout the ARCA race, Todd told Robin, “this is double a ball wait till tonight”. After the ARCA race, we hit checkers and repaired to the car where we met up with Wes and Scott Below before returning for the shootout.
Just after 8pm, there were only nineteen cars on the track, less than half the field for the 500 this Sunday, but it was Johnson, Gordon, Stewart, Harvick, and the lights were on, the chill deep in our bones, and when the engines fired it was different. Different than watching a race on television in a way that must be experienced. It starts with the sound of the engines and smell of fuel. The engines are violent and loud, the smell of fuel harsh. There is a palpable tension that distances what is before you from any vision of forty rednecks making a series of left turns for a couple of hours.
The cars roll of pit road and take several warm up laps behind the pace car while the anticipation builds for the green flag. The announcer indicates one to go, the light on the pace car changes and it dips down on to pit road as the green flag drops. The engines rev to deafening levels and the field accelerates in unison. A flying parade of colors passes before us and into the high banks of turn one. When they pass us again they are at full speed over 200 mph, and the field is a tightly packed.
If anyone drove next to you on the highway at 70 mph as close as any of these cars are to each other, you would become completely unnerved or surrender to an episode of road rage. These drivers do this lap after lap at 200 mph often coming in contact with the others cars. It is stand up, hold your breath and don’t blink entertainment. There is nothing like it. Be you a race fan or a fan of human ability and accomplishment, I recommend you watch a race live in the strongest of terms.