If you’ve been following my blog posts for any length of time, you’ll know that I love a good ol’ Midwestern US football team more than anything else. One of my favorite teams is the Pittsburgh Steelers, and although we may live in the UK, they always hold a special place in my heart.
I do however enjoy a good ol’ international rivalry, and without a doubt, the best vehicle races in the world are held right here in the good ol’ US of A. One of my favorite events is the Daytona International Speedway, where every year in February, the cars and bikes come together for a good ol’ fashioned battle. The whole family can get involved, and you can bet your sweet ass that the kids have just as much fun as the adults.
When the checkered flag waves, and the last car has crossed the line victorious, it feels just like Christmas morning. But instead of gifts under the tree, you get to party with your favorite NASCAR drivers and enjoy some of the greatest racing spectacles on the planet. This year, as always, will be no exception – and I couldn’t be more excited.
The History Of Daytona
Daytona is the second largest of the three official US motor sports venues, the other two being Daytona Beach and Talladega. Situated along the shore of the beautiful Atlantic Ocean, Daytona was once just a small fishing village. In 1935, two years before the Second World War, Daytona Beach was purchased by the Meyer family, and since then it’s been home to some of the greatest motor sports races in the world. The Meyer family, which owns and operates the Daytona International Speedway, also founded Hard Rock Café – the first Hard Rock Cafe opened in London back in 1986. Hard Rock Café are the masterminds behind this years’ event, so be sure to eat your candy cane while you still can.
The earliest recorded instance of automobile racing in the area dates back to 1916. The very first Daytona 500 was actually an off-road race called the Grand Prize Circuit. Organized by Ransom E. Olds, it was an 18-lap (10.5 mile) race around the beaches and through the dense pine forests of North Florida. The only competitors were four-wheel-drive vehicles, and not surprisingly, Olds won the race. Twelve years later, in 1928, the Grand Prize Circuit was revived as the Daytona Speedway, and became a fixture on the US motorsports calendar. Since then, the speedway has gone from strength to strength, and currently holds around 350,000 spectators each year.
In 1932, a $25,000 prize was on the line in the Grand Prize Endurance Run, which consisted of a 200-mile (320km) road trip from Miami to New York – the richest prize ever offered at the time. The race was won by a stock car driven by Gaston Chevrolet and Henry Ford, who beat out a field of 21 racers. In 1936, the Daytona race track was dedicated, and that year’s Grand Prize was offered in a 24-hour enduro race, which consisted of a timed race across four different vehicle classes. That year’s race took place on a sand track, which is why Daytona is sometimes referred to as the “Cape Cod of the South.”
During World War II, the Daytona race track was closed, and the area was used as a military testing range. After the war, the track was open for business once more. Thanks to an increased demand for gasoline during the war, the popularity of NASCAR soared, and in 1948, the track hosted the very first modern NASCAR race. That year’s race attracted a crowd of 14,000 spectators, and the following year the track drew 100,000 people. In 1952, the grandstands were expanded, and that same year the track featured a record-breaking 400-car field. The biggest single-day crowd to watch a NASCAR race was around 250,000 people in 1963, and it wasn’t uncommon for the track to draw over a million. These days, the capacity is somewhere around 350,000.
With such a rich history, it’s no wonder that Daytona is home to some of the best-known brand names in automobiles – including Ford, Chevrolet, and Penske Truck Racing. The track also plays an important part in the Indianapolis 500 – the IndyCar Series – with Indianapolis being the home of the Indianapolis 500. In 2013, Daytona was also the site of the Festival of Speed, an automobile and bike celebrity rodeo that honors the greatest drivers and racers in the world. The event, which was first held in 1959 and is named after the famous Brooklyn Bike Race that took place there in 1928, is a great way to recognize the historic importance of the track and its place in American culture.
NASCAR And The Media
Over the past 70 years, NASCAR has gone from an occasional event held on a dirt track to one of the largest sporting events in the country. That’s undoubtedly due to the sport’s wide appeal and the fact that it allows for families to get involved. Thanks to increased TV coverage and social media platforms such as Twitter, fans can keep up with the latest news and information regarding their favorite race teams and drivers easily.
It’s fair to say that without the media, there would be no NASCAR. Sure, there would still be racing, but without the wide array of platforms available today, it would be much harder to stay connected with your favorite racing teams and drivers. And that would be a real shame.
The 2019 Season
After a very turbulent 2018 season, which saw Kevin Harvick win the NASCAR championship and his teammate Kyle Larson win the Cup Souvenir Game, the 2019 season has finally arrived. And boy, am I looking forward to it.
The biggest talking point heading into the new season is the upcoming Coca-Cola 600, which will be the first race since the opening of the newly renovated Speedway. The new track surface is a lot grippier than the old one, and it’s changed the nature of the race completely. Gone are the days of bucking headwinds and tailwinds, and in their place are caution flags and stopped clocks. This year, there will also be an increased focus on driver safety, and the manufacturers have gone above and beyond in making the vehicles safer – it’s virtually impossible to crash anymore.
What else is new? Well, for one thing, the track is much bigger than it’s ever been. The infield is now 64 acres (0.26 km2), and the grandstands are 50 feet (15 meters) tall. The biggest change, however, is that the trackside hospitality is opening its doors to the general public for the first time. In the past, only accredited journalists were given access to the area where the drivers eat, sleep, and train. That’s no longer the case, and anyone can now stroll down the yellow brick road and have a good ol’ chat with Curtis Churchill, the only African-American driver in the sport who has a team named after him (the “Stonewall” Cardinals).
Last but not least, the Atlanta Skywatchers will race at the Daytona International Speedway for the very first time. This year’s race will take place on January 18th, and be broadcast live on Fox TV. The Skywatchers are a group of over 200 racers who represent the Atlanta area in nascar – including Brandon Bryant, Clint Bowyer, and Darrell Waltrip – and this year they will have a lot to prove. We are very proud that the Daytona International Speedway is home to such a talented group of drivers, and we look forward to seeing them compete for the first time.