I attended my first ever NASCAR race over the weekend. I picked a big one too. “America’s race” the 2014 Daytona 500 (the 56th year of the race) at the Daytona International Speedway in Florida.
“America is all about speed. Hot, nasty, badass speed.“
– Eleanor Roosevelt, 1936
The completely made up opening text to the hilarious NASCAR comedy:
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006 starring Will Ferrell)
When I first got to the speedway I spent a while wandering around the team sales stalls and so forth in the Midway. This was great for people watching and picking up souvenirs. Lots of cars were on display in this area, NASCAR drivers were being interviewed for the crowd and I also got to meet Miss Sprint Cup 2013 Brooke Werner which was fun!
After a few rainy days the morning of the Daytona 500 was looking good. The pre-race entertainment and events kept the crowd happy in anticipation of the big race. The USAF Thunderbirds flyover was great to see too!
America’s race started in warm sunshine. The noise and high-speed of the cars created a huge energy in the crowd. Very exciting!
Alas the Days of Thunder magic of Tom Cruise did not quite work (another Talledega Nights reference. I love that movie!). At 2:15pm a huge storm and even a tornado warning hit the track! After 38 laps the race was temporarily stopped.
The storm raged for 4 hours! I have a new-found respect for NASCAR fans. Probably 70% of them stayed on and braved the storm (including me). We were wet and cold but the day went on (even under the grandstands was no real shelter as the rain poured down like a waterfall from above).
Once the storm finally stopped it took a further 2 hours to dry out the track with trucks specially fitted to tow jet engines that are aimed at the track and various other specialised drying machines. This process was fascinating to watch with so many vehicles slowly going around the track including semi-trailers to power the whole process for some of the vehicles.
So with much applause the race finally restarted at 8:30pm with the lights blazing and a dry track. This was a do or die close race, with the lead changing many times. 19 of the 43 drivers lead the race at some stage with the lead changing over 40 times!
There were spinouts and at least 5 major crashes (including one on the last lap). More than half the field were eventually knocked out of the race due to mechanical issues or the crashes (23 cars did not finish the race)! Some 11 drivers were knocked out in the last 10 laps alone!
Despite many crashes and being close to midnight, all 200 laps and 500 miles were completed with Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Chevrolet) winning the race (his second victory at the Daytona 500). He led for 54 laps and took the lead on around the 188th lap. It was a great victory constantly under challenge.
Denny Hamlin (Toyota) finished in second place followed by Brad Keselowski (Ford) in third, Jeff Gordon (Chevrolet) fourth and then Jimmie Johnson (Chevrolet) in fifth. Chevrolet had a great day with 3 cars in the top 5 finishers.
Earnhardt Jr. was my third pick to follow for the day as Aussie Marcos Ambrose and the very cute Danica Patrick (who also briefly led the race) were unfortunately both knocked out in separate crashes. The crowd support for Earnhardt in what was a very close race was very noticeable.
Despite the weather and mayhem, what a great day it was. I have seen Formula One and V8 Super Car racing back in Australia but NASCAR is something else. The banked track adds a whole new dimension to the racing experience. The speed, the noise it was all very exciting!
I experienced it all from sun burn to being partially soaking wet (a poncho can only do so much in those conditions). Eventually I crawled into bed at 2:15am totally exhausted after being at the track for about 14 hours! I now truly understand Americas love of NASCAR.