Sunday brings us the Daytona 500, baby, known as The Great American Race. Every February, tens of thousands of people from all over the country descend on Daytona Beach for the spectacle. Some call it the ‘Super Bowl’ of auto-racing, but the truth is that the Daytona 500 is the first race of the season.
Fun Fact: Mr. R. and I attended FIVE Daytona 500s in a row, back when we had running around money. It’s an amazing experience, whether or not you enjoy NASCAR. We’d been dating less than a year when I mentioned that it was one of my ‘bucket list’ items, so for my birthday in October, Mr. R. purchased tickets for the following February. When I told one of my friends, she said, “When you break up, can I have his ticket?” A few years later, I had to divorce that friend, but that’s a story for another post.
And so it was that we attended our first Daytona 500 in February 2007. Our seats were on the back stretch, not the best seats in the place, but we were thrilled. Words can’t adequately describe the moment when the cars first roar past at nearly 200 miles per hour. In later visits we sat on the front stretch between the start-finish line and turn one, right across the exit to Pit Road. We sat low in the stands, once on Row 2, which turned out to be the front row. Ear plugs are necessary, and you can feel the roar of the engines in your chest. You need to have a cover on your drink because you get sprinkled with tiny particles of rubber. Being directly across from the pits, you have a great view of the drivers and the pit crews.
The race isn’t the only attraction at the Daytona 500. Outside the speedway there’s a whole city set up with interactive fan activities and every driver has at least one merchandise truck. The on-track pageantry is really something to see, from the Budweiser Clydesdales to the driver introductions to the pre-race entertainment.
The first year we went, we walked around the whole place just to get a feel for it. At one point, we saw a place where there was a gap in the fence and you could look straight out onto the track. A female security guard was stationed at that spot. Mr. R. approached the woman with a big smile. “Would it be okay if I just ran across the track and ran back? Real quick?” he asked her.
“Uh–NO!” she spluttered.
“But I’m really, really fast,” he added. We died laughing.
One of my favorite stories is the year that Brad Paisley gave a mini-concert directly across from the start-finish line. Our seats were much further down and only those ticket-holders were allowed in that section but I really wanted to see him. Mr. R. headed on in like a boss until we were stopped by an usher. “May I see your tickets, please?” he said.
I rolled my eyes at Mr. R. “I just put the tickets away,” I complained.
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” the usher apologized.
I dug them out of my purse and waited for him to tell us we couldn’t come in. Instead, he looked over the tickets, handed them back to me, and apologized again. “I’m sorry. Go on in,” he said.
Some things to consider if you ever go:
- Pay to park near the speedway, like at the mall right across the street. Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT use the free parking. They put out in a pasture somewhere and load you up onto school buses. We literally spent five hours after the race was over just waiting to get out of the pasture.
- You’re allowed to bring in food and drinks–so DO.
- Remember ear plugs.
- If you’re considering purchasing the official program with commemorative die-cast, do it right away. They sell out quickly.
- Tickets for the front stretch are more expensive, and worth it.
- And, oh, by the way, there’s a Krispy Kreme just down the street from the speedway. Just saying…
I’m a little sad to be watching this year’s race from home. But we have great memories of our times at The Great American Race.