Remember a couple of shows ago when I did the story about my first trip to Daytona in 1962? Things were different then in so many ways, not only the racing but also the actual trip itself. Nowadays, and for quite a number of years, there are interstate highways that get you from Columbia to Daytona. Literally, the Interstate is less than a mile from my house and once on that ribbon of asphalt, or concrete, depending upon where you are on the system, the only stop I had to make was in St. Augustine to gas up the silver Mercury. From my door to the speedway was exactly six hours, including that gas stop. When you go through Georgia now, you traverse a three lane wide, each way, interstate 95. I do have to admit that the exit indicators for 295 around Jacksonville could use some improvement but I took a chance and actually took the proper exit.
The trip was uneventful as it was made in broad daylight, warm weather, no fog, and no high bridges. When I exited I-95 onto Highway 92, Volusia Avenue that runs past the speedway, it was just as the "Clash" or whatever it is called now had ended and traffic was exiting the track. Traffic was not bad but I believe Cup qualifying was right after the Clash so folks were staying for that. It was a kind of special comfort in seeing the Goodyear Blimp in the air from a few miles out. Sort of like old home week of all my visits during the races in Daytona. A piece of nostalgia not lost on this old boy.
I saw my first "Welcome Race Fans" sign hanging from one of the highway crossovers from the speedway. But let me go back just a bit. Once upon a time, when you exited I-95 onto Volusia Avenue, the Speedway was the first thing you saw, in fact, almost the only thing you saw. Now, it is tucked in between so many hotels and restaurants, and has such an architectural facade you hardly realize you are passing the "World Center of Racing". Were Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp to exit turn four over the wall now as they did in 1961, the cars would end up in a hotel lobby. What the speedway is now is far removed from the day Big Bill dreamed it and built it. That's a good thing, I suppose, but I can't help but wonder if there will come a time when development overtakes the speedway property. Unlikely, sure, but it has happened to many a track over the years, thus Bopper's affinity for Ghost tracks.
Surprisingly, the "Welcome Race Fans" signs were not prevalent as I drove on downtown to my beach-side hotel. My hotel did "Welcome Race Fans" as did a few of the businesses on Atlantic Boulevard, the main drag by the beach. I saw not ONE banner from Monster Energy anywhere welcoming race fans. I even went into a convenience store for a coke and checked out the Title Sponsor's display with NO indication of series title sponsorship. The reasoning, I've heard, is that the deal with NASCAR was signed so late; they haven't had time to make banners? Really? That baffles me as most companies around here can make banners in 24 hours. I did see one fan wearing a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup cap.
I was in Daytona for the "Back to the Roots" events. Back to the Roots is an organization run by Phaedra Lee, Zetta Baker, and Bob Hissom, and for just the fifth year of operation, the programs Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday were exceptional. Such a collection of racing legends and racing history gathered in one place was enough to take away the breath of a fan of the "good ole days". There was no doubt, at 316 Main Street, Bill France's gas station from his settlement in Daytona, put out the "Welcome Race Fans" with sincerity. This was a first class program every step of the way. Bill Blair, Jr.'s round table discussion Sunday afternoon was enjoyable and I actually got to sit on a hay bale with Randy Myers for that event. I don't recall ever sitting on a hay bale before Sunday. The Red Carpet walk by the celebrities was something to watch. The David Ragan auction for Shriners' Hospital was fascinating and raised over $5,000.00 for that charity. I saw things go for $5.00 that I thought were worth far more and saw things I thought almost worthless go for a couple hundred. No figuring these race fans I guess.
The Marvin Panch Awards Brunch was as professional as any event I've ever attended. The food was excellent and the company outstanding. Buz McKim did a wonderful job as M.C. and every award winner was most appreciative. It was an honor to have been a part of all that.
Winding this up, I have to tell you this. I walked back and forth from my hotel to 316 Main Street except the couple of times the golf cart transported me. It was only a few blocks. As I was standing on the corner of Main Street and Atlantic Boulevard, I was listening to the D.J. in the open-air bar. He was asking Daytona 500 trivia questions for chances to spin the wheel for prizes. I stood there a couple of changes of the light just to listen. First question: "What year was the first Daytona 500?” Three or four minutes passed with no answer so I stuck my head in the door and yelled out "1959". Right! Come spin the wheel. I gave that opportunity to a young man sitting next to the door. Next question: "Who has won the most Daytona 500s and how many"? I had to laugh at that one and figured that was sure to be a quick answer. I stood there for a while, not sure how long, and there was no answer. I told the other guy sitting at the table with the first one that it was Richard Petty and it was 7 wins. He shouted the answer and went up to spin the wheel for his prize.
Still think we don't have a problem with the preservation of the history of this sport? There, in Daytona, a block or two from the Streamline Hotel, the young folks in that bar couldn't answer questions so well known to me and I'm willing to bet to almost every one of you listening. I wish my friend Alex, the Florida Racing Fan had been with me and we could have cleaned up with spinning that wheel. But, what the heck, prizes were probably a can of Monster Energy or perhaps an autographed picture of Brian France, neither or which is of much importance to me.
I've heard all the discussion about the pros and cons of new rules NASCAR has implemented. The disasters that were the truck race, Xfinity race, and the 500 were mostly the product of plate racing, not segment racing, or whatever they call it. The fields in those races were drastically reduced due to accidents. Perhaps and hopefully, Atlanta this coming weekend will be a better showcase of this rules package.
Until next week, happy race watching folks. As Billy Biscoe so proudly displays on his race cars, "Don't forget your roots". A statement even more important today than ever before.