The Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing
I love the Daytona 500. Nothing thrills me more than when all 40 of those cars go screaming by at the start of the race with the wave of the green flag. I’m all in with my headphones with the driver scanner attached (so I can listen to the in-car audio between driver and crew chief, and there’s no bleeping out anything on those channels). If my driver wrecks, I’m ready to leave, but if not, I’m there for the long haul.
- Attended my first Daytona 500 in 2000; and followed the #36 M&M car driven by Ken Schrader. I picked that car because it was fun. I have followed the M&M car ever since, and now #18, Kyle Busch, of Joe Gibbs’ Racing drives the M&M car (in most races).
- Was not present in 2001 when Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed in a last lap crash, stunning the racing world.
- Present when the first Daytona 500 in history was rained out in 2012, and then watched on TV as Juan Pablo Montoya’s No. 42 suffered a mechanical failure and slammed into a jet dryer on the track, which caused a huge fire and a two-hour long red flag delay.
- Present for the closest finish in Daytona 500 history back in 2016, when Denny Hamlin beat Martin Truex, Jr. for the title by .010. The fans weren’t even sure who won for a few seconds.
I don’t care who’s leading at the start of the race, you can almost guarantee, he won’t be leading at the finish. Daytona is a total crap shoot. There’s no telling who will win. But I can guarantee you, the race will be exciting, with lots of twisted and wrecked metal (or fiberglass) to show for it.
The World Center of Racing
Daytona has done an outstanding job of updating the facility and bringing it into the 21st century. Daytona International Speedway is now a state-of-the-art experience catering to the fans. Wi-fi availability has been updated, there are charging stations located throughout the venue, and there is a much larger variety in concessions as well. They understand that women take longer in the bathroom, and they get an A+++ for having plenty of stalls in each restroom.
Track events leading up the 500 begin the previous Saturday (8 days before the 500). There is an event on Sunday, then the track is quiet until Thursday and then it’s full on action until the big race on Sunday.
If you haven’t experienced a Daytona 500, I encourage you to go for all of the activities and excitement, because there is plenty going on. Outside the gates, vendors are set up giving away freebies, or a chance to win prizes, you can have your picture taken in your favorite driver’s car, there are a lot of activities for the kids, and of course, there’s no shortage of merchandise you can purchase to show your support for your favorite driver or team.
When there are no scheduled events at Daytona, another way to get your racing fix is attending events at the smaller tracks such as Volusia Speedway Park and New Smyrna Beach Speedway and watch the up and coming talent of the future.
The Big Day
On the day of the 500, everyone is getting up early to get to the track. Typically we are up and ready to go by 7:00 a.m. We are so excited for the big race. In the past we have paid an exorbitant amount of money to park at the Volusia Mall or other places close to the track. Last year, we decided to take the free shuttle. It worked out really well, and we saved a lot of money. You have to be patient when you are herding 100,000 people into and out of a venue.
Once you get to the track, everyone is loud and proud about who their favorite driver is. There is plenty to do, and the place is packed. We like to walk around and make any last-minute merchandise purchases, people watch, and get to our seats early.
Many of the drivers make appearances in the vendor area. Check the Daytona 500 website to see who is appearing and when. I have also checked on Twitter, as many of the drivers will post their appearance place and time there as well.
If you want an enhanced fan experience, buy one of the wristbands that permits access to the infield, the UNOH Fanzone. The infield has its own concessions. In addition, the garage area is there and there are windows looking in on each driver’s stall. You are welcome to watch the race from the infield; however, you will have a limited view.
The entertainment in the infield is usually very good, and we have seen Darius Rucker and Luke Bryan perform.
During the pre-race festivities, the drivers are announced and there is always a lot of cheering (and booing) depending upon who your guy is. Finally comes the National Anthem, the awesome flyover by the Air Force Thunderbirds, and then the most famous words in racing “Drivers start your engines!”
It always amazes me how quickly they get the infield cleared and the stage and all of the other stuff out-of-the-way when it’s time to race.
Now it’s GO TIME!
I’ll be missing the race this year because my foot is still recovering from surgery. The Captain will be in attendance along with a friend of his.
I’ll be there in spirit and watching on TV (at least if or until Kyle wrecks ;-))
Tips for an Enjoyable Experience
- Read the guidelines here for what you can and cannot bring into the track. It is a HUGE waste of time having to haul stuff back to the car.
- Save yourself time and hassle and park for free at Lot 7 and take the free shuttle to the track.
- Wear headphones and make sure your kids are wearing them as well.
- Bring a clear backpack and put in it:
- bottled water, and make sure to drink that water
- plenty of sunscreen
- a hat
- antacids and pain reliever
- wet wipes
- antibacterial lotion
- napkins because you will find none at the Speedway
- plastic rain poncho (umbrellas are prohibited)
- chargers for your electronics
- charged portable battery bank to charge your electronics
- extra batteries for your headphones
- a sweatshirt because it may be chilly early in the morning when you arrive and again when the sun goes down
- Wear comfortable shoes. You will be walking A LOT.
One final thought. If ANYONE knows how I can get a HOT PASS to one of these NASCAR races, please let me know. Thanks in advance, and
LET’S GO RACING!