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This humble blog was started to document our travels around the country during the summer of 2006, We have opted to continue updating it due to the requests from family & friends. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

58th Daytona 500

February 26, 2016



58th Daytona 500

The Daytona 500 is a race that had been on my bucket list until I was finally able to see my first race last year, it was just something that I wanted to see and experience myself after having been to over forty Indy 500s. I wanted to see and experience what is the biggest and best stock car race in the world and to see how it measured up to other races that I have attended. While it still is nowhere close to the size, scope, excitement and historical significance of Indy, I must admit it was much cooler than I had imagined and I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to go back, so I renewed my tickets and found myself back at Daytona again this year.

The prerace festivities really ratchet up in the final hour prior to the green flag, Daytona Speedway does an amazing job moving around the massive crowds that gather in the infield prior to the start to watch the driver introductions and a big concert which this year featured the country duo Florida-Georgia line. It is pretty exciting to be a part of it all and I was able to wonder around and meet the iconic retired NASCAR champion and two-time Daytona 500 winner Bobby Allison before the atart of the race and I got to spend time with my high school buddy Mike, who I had not seen since our graduation over 30 years ago. It was a fun prerace for me.

with Bobby Allison

with Mike

I watched about half of the short version concert featuring Florida-Georgia Line. They are certainly not the type of band you might traditionally find me watching, but the show was pretty good and the crowd was really, really in to it. I think the fact that half of the band is basically local to the Daytona area helped, but also the band is one of the hottest acts in country music of this current decade and they have a huge, faithful following that overlaps easily with the typical NASCAR crowd. I was at my seat in the very highest level of the grandstands before they finished and watched in awe as they cleared the infield of literally thousands of fans in a matter of minutes leading up to the call to start engines.

Florida-Georgia Line

The ceremony to get the race started lacks the tradition and gravitas of Indy’s hallowed traditions, but it is still pretty cool and I especially enjoyed the flyover by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds just after the Star Spangled Banner was sung. The race itself got off to a great start, polesitter and rookie Chase Elliott the son of former NASCAR champ Bill Elliott jumped into the early lead, a good start for the young man taking over the ride from retired legend Jeff Gordon, but he crashed out early and would go on to finish a disappointing 37th.

It was an absolute picture perfect day for the 200 lap race and the race went along mostly smoothly with the first half of the race dominated by Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson, who traded the lead by hugging the inside lane of the track, which was the preferred line throughout. It seemed whatever train was on the outside lane was at a great disadvantage and nobody could really make that lane work all day.

The race had a total of six cautions for 31 laps, none of which were too serious but wrecks knocked out fan favorites Dale Earnhart Jr. and Danica Patrick but also kept the field tightly bunched as is standard in most NASCAR races. The later stages of the race were dominated by Matt Kenseth, who led with seeming ease as the laps counted down nearing the end. It seemed to be his race to lose and unfortunately for him that is just what happened.

Danica Patrick

After the final caution of the day, the race restarted with 12 laps to go. Kenseth remained comfortably in the lead as the outside line continued to lose momentum. Hamlin jumped to the outside line with one to go and drafted all the way to his teammate Kenseth. Kenseth came down on Hamlin, got himself loose and fell back to finish 14th. Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. drag raced to the finish line and Hamlin prevailed by 11 one-thousandths of a second, the closest in Daytona 500 history.

The race was tedious at times, but the excitement of the last lap and the closest finish ever in Daytona 500 history more than made up for the slow periods and it was a fantastic and enjoyable afternoon all around as Hamlin captured his first ever win at Daytona and the 27th win of his NASCAR career. Truex finished second barely followed by Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards. It was yet another very fun afternoon at the track and I had such a good time that I am already considering returning yet again next year.

Denny Hamlin

Daytona U.S.A.

February 25, 2016

Gerard Butler

Daytona U.S.A.

Sunday morning and I found myself awake and on the road early heading from Orlando to Daytona Beach to attend my second Daytona 500. It was actually my third trip to the race, but a few years ago, the race was rained out and postponed until Monday and I was not able to stay. There was no danger of that happening as the day was beautiful, sunny and not even too hot, just about perfect conditions for me to watch the race for the second year in a row. I am not a huge NASCAR fan, but I do enjoy most large scale sporting events and this is the Super Bowl of the NASCAR season.

It is a massive event and this year marked the 58th running of what they call the Great American Race. The speedway was unveiling their renovations to the stands and amenities of the place for the first time. The $650 million dollar renovation upgraded and created what they were calling the first ever motorsports stadium. I must admit it is very impressive, but the entire place still is far removed from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which in my mind is the World’s Greatest Motorsports facility.

The pre-race festivities are enjoyable and I had more than a few hours to roam around the infield and fanzone taking in the sights prior to the running of the race and as usual I saw all sorts of cool stuff. Perhaps the coolest thing I witnessed was an induction ceremony for new recruits in to the US Air Force. Deborah Lee James, the Secretary of the Air Force was on hand to perform the honors as were a large contingent of high ranking officers and a number of the pilots from the Air Force Thunderbirds, who were to do the flyover prior to the race.

With Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James

I must admit it was pretty cool to watch the ceremony, which seemed to attract only the family members of those being inducted and a few curious passersby like myself, but it was pretty emotional and patriotic, knowing that this group of young men and women were going forward to serve our country in potentially very dangerous situations around the globe was awe inspiring. The pride and happiness of their family members and of the other military members present was really cool as well and I felt very fortunate to see this ceremony which I might otherwise have never had the opportunity to see.

Of course that was only a small part of the prerace festivities, in the infield I was able to meet up with a friend that I had not seen in 30 years since we were high school classmates. Mike works in the NASCAR media, creating a NASCAR blog and reporting on the races, drivers and teams from his home base in Myrtle Beach. It was awesome to see him and to be able to catch up briefly in person, we have remained friends on facebook for years but seeing old friends in person is always better than online. He met me just outside the NASCAR media center, which is also where the many celebrities who attend the race can be seen.


Ken Griffey Jr., John Cena and Gerard Butler

John Cena

This year I managed to see and meet the likes of John Cena, Brody Jenner, Ken Griffey Jr., Wyclef Jean and actor Gerard Butler. They all were around in advance of the race, wondering through the media area, through the pits and garage area. It is funny in that fans seem to have much more access to the celebrities present than they do to the drivers themselves who other than arranged media or public appearances are virtually non-existent until the driver introductions just before the start. Access to them is much more restricted than what I am used to in Indy Car.

Wyclef Jean and Ken Griffey Jr.

Gerard Butler

Brody Jenner and Kaitlynn Carter

Another difference is the massive amount of vendors and souvenirs available. Even minor drivers have huge areas selling all manner of souvenirs, t-shirts, stickers, pins, hats, lighters, and just about any other thing you could slap a sponsor logo or driver image on is available to be purchased and popular drivers like Dale Jr. and Danica Patrick have massive crowds lining up to buy their stuff. Fan loyalty far outpaces anything seen in IndyCar though I did see one cool fan who was wearing a James Hinchcliffe shirt, which I found refreshing.

The build-up to the race is pretty exciting, the crowds are pumped and there is a lot going on and as a race fan, I found myself with plenty to see and do. Shopping is a huge part of the NASCAR experience as well and I bought a few souvenirs myself. Just as at most races that I have attended as the time for the race drew near, the excitement builds and NASCAR and the track have the scheduling down to the minute in a precise ballet of activity culminating in the drop of the green flag.

Gerard Butler