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Soggy Daytona Gets Our Mind To Wondering

Riding out rain delays for the Daytona 500 puts your mind in a spin. The ‘liquid sunshine’ beaming down on Daytona International Speedway this weekend made the peanut under my pelt wonder about things past and present in my now more than 30 trips to the ‘World Center of Speed.’

Here are just a few of them.

The only way to access the Speedway infield is through the old ‘sewer pipe’ tunnel in Turn 4. Driving in through the new sterile concrete tunnel in Turn 2 doesn’t even begin to give you a feeling of the history of the place.

The North Turn restaurant located at the top of the old Beach Course is still one of the best places to have dinner in Daytona. The place just drips with history.

The world’s largest sewage plant must be located in Brunswick, GA given what it smells like every time we drive by there.

A real sign of changing times is the Infield Media Center at DIS has replaced the old ‘slick meat’ sandwich fare luncheon with a salad bar.

I miss the race festivals they used to have on Beach Street, but sure like how the merchants and city there have cleaned up the place.

Gasoline averaged about $3.75 a gallon on this trip. Back in 1994 when I started making these pilgrimages, it averaged about $1.10.

You can hardly find a Drive-In Movie Theater anywhere these days, but the Drive In Church at Daytona is still very much alive and well.

I’ve never stopped, but do all citrus outlets along the freeway in Florida require you view/pet an alligator or snake before you can buy your fruit?

Atlantic Sounds used vinyl record and CD store is still one of my favorite places to find those old tunes you can’t find anywhere else.

Of all the cars I have passed on the road en route to Daytona, the Toyota Prius is the ugliest with the Buick Rendezvous a close second. I drew cooler looking cars than this in second grade study hall at Sacred Heart Catholic School.

Hotels in Daytona used to be slammed full for the 500. Now – not so much.

With one located at nearly every exit on the freeway, Waffle House is obviously the haute cuisine choice in South Carolina.

The folks charging fans $25 a day to park their cars by the speedway are the biggest gouge artists in Daytona. Just about the time you thought the freeway construction through Jacksonville would never end, it has.

Camera phones ended any hopes or seeing a NASCAR driver in The Shark Lounge, Biggins or Lollipops ever again. Still can’t tell what they have more of in Daytona – Surf and Swimsuit stores or 7-Eleven’s.

How many people in the main grandstand lost their view of the back straight when they built the Daytona 500 Club in the infield?

Vehicles with those stick figure decals of a family and their pets in the back window should never be allowed to drive in the left lane of the expressway. Ditto for any vehicle with a bicycle rack on the back.

The Wing House in Daytona is just another Hooters where the waitresses wear revealing black shirts instead of white ones.

The driver’s meetings used to be a bunch of guys in t-shirts standing around at the back of the hauler. Now, they are slick video productions broadcasted on multiple flat screen televisions in a comfortable conference room.

There are a lot more homeless people in Daytona than there used to be.

The FanZone in the infield at DIS is one of the coolest race day experiences of any track we’ve ever been to. Make sure you get to this rocking good party the next time you attend a race there.

These days, parking lots at the country clubs in Florida must have a lot of tall grass and rough terrain based on the number of blinged out Cadillac Escalades we saw with brush bars on the front on this trip.

The area surrounding the old Daytona pier – including the Ocean Deck bar and the Boardwalk Arcade – are still the best ‘back in the day’ beach bar/fan experience in Daytona.

I found it odd that passenger cars can still drive on the beach at Daytona, but the vintage cars and motorcycles that competed on the beach had to hold their annual reunion parade on the street this year.

Despite the all the mind-spinning ramblings stated here, one thing has definitely not changed in my two decades of working races at Daytona or anywhere else for that matter – it totally sucks when it rains at the track.

Last Call –

While there is no doubt that rain at the racetrack can be a real bummer, the days when the sun shines can be so glorious that grey moments are well worth it.

Thanks to my now long-time association with the Tradin’ Paint show on NASCAR SIRIUS/XM Radio, I’ve had years of fun every Thursday discussing the sport with good pals Rick Benjamin and Danny ‘Chocolate’ Myers. Legendary driver Buddy Baker also sits in on my sometimes Friday timeslots allowing me the honor of being on the air with one of my all-time racing heroes.

This past Friday in Daytona, Cale Yarborough and Richard Petty got in the Tradin’ Paint mix in the segment just prior to my timeslot. To stand in the wings and see/hear Richard, Cale and Buddy do some bench racing about the past was truly the Daytona highlight for me this year – regardless of what happens when the 500 eventually takes the flag this year.

Moments like that just don’t come along every day. I was in awe, just like when I was a little kid watching these daredevil men hustle chrome bumpered ‘stock’ cars around Daytona at speeds equaling or eclipsing those of today’s modern cars.

On the air with Rick, Choc and Buddy afterward, I wondered aloud “who would have ever thought that a little Cheesehead Wisconsin racer like me would ever get to be a part this?”

The answer of course, is never.

I’m happy to say that despite all the changes – from jalopy coupes to purpose-built race rockets – there is still nothing like getting close to the drivers and seeing the cars thunder around the track. I’m still a kid at heart, I’m still a fan. Making racing my career hasn’t made me jaded or cynical about it, but only more appreciative of the sport and the good fortune I have had in being part of it. Hopefully, that will never change.
Have a good week all – and enjoy the 500 whenever Mother Nature allows us to have it.

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