It’s a beautiful place, a true monument to all we hold dear as racing fans. Daytona International Speedway stands tall in the soft Florida wind, the pattern of the encompassing catch fence blending with the swaying fronds of the palm trees and the rippling water across Lake Lloyd.
We love it here. Most fanciers of automotive machines do. It is where cars trail around the infield for 24 hours all to earn some fancy Rolex watch. Motorcycles of all breeds descend for a week of two-wheeled celebration. Now there’s a short track, so even more of the motor-head population can come glory in this iconic place.
Besides all the engine-propelled partying, NASCAR’s year begins here. To us, Daytona represents fresh starts and impossible dreams come true, second chances and celebrations gone wild.
Once upon a time we raced on the sands of the not-so-distant beach. Now we’re running on asphalt nearly five lanes wide and banked 31 degrees in the monstrous turns that never end. Speeds wind up to near 200 mph. It is gargantuan and gorgeous. A track that speaks to the still burgeoning history of auto racing where we recall days of glory even as the grid is set for the next Great American Race. It calls to us to come and see!
Unfortunately, every year I ponder my immutable work schedule and sigh. I will not get to attend the Daytona 500, once again.
There will not be the opportunity to see 43 cars cross the start/finish line or to cover my ears when the engines strain against the restrictions placed upon them. I will not see Tony Stewart win his first 500 – echoing another first by Dale Earnhardt Sr. so many years ago. I will not wiggle in my seat as the pack tightens up and the drivers attempt to put too many machines in a much too small piece of moving real estate. My heart won’t slam in my chest, because only when you’re at the track can you completely abandon yourself to the competitive animal that lives inside every race fan.
I also won’t stand in horror when somebody slips just a fraction of an inch too far to the left and 15 cars pile into the fence, sheetmetal rending, fuel bursting into flame and more than one vehicle tumbling to a stop on the infield. No, I won’t.
But I will be sitting on my couch holding my head in my hands questioning exactly why we return to Daytona and Talladega twice a year, every year, and most likely will continue to do so through the foreseen future.
You see, I hate those car-munching pig piles. I react in a much more visceral way compared to the usual sinking stomach sensation I have to wrecks at any other track. It’s not the actual accident that upsets me. It’s the sheer magnitude of the destruction that makes my heart sink and the knowledge that for two-thirds of those teams affected; they had little or nothing to do with the end of their day.
Racing is all about living on the edge of control. The plate tracks simply step over the cliff. And it is then, when we’ve abandoned our hold on the steering wheel, that I’ve stopped watching a high-speed competition and entered into the world of base spectacle. I begin to feel cheated of my day of racing. Anger follows. I will grumble and complain, wring my hands, and write a few hundred chosen words on the evils of irresponsible sanctioning bodies that enjoy playing roulette with their most prized assets – the drivers.
Then I look again. Riding the banks of turns 3 and 4 a pack of screaming cars appear, the metal of their machines reflecting the setting sun. They seem to defy gravity. Inches separate bumpers and fenders and my heart catches in my throat.
There is simply nothing like it. When the draft is working, when that minute edge remains under the steely grip of the pilot and when all else is as it should be, Daytona is once again the best place to watch the fastest stock cars compete.
I love it. I hate it. I am a simple NASCAR fan in conflict, but still one who is looking forward to the drop of the green flag come Sunday afternoon.
NASCAR fans! Start your engines.
About the author
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.
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