The Daytona 500 Travelogue Experience

Being completely frank, I have not watched a NASCAR event in years. I think the last full Daytona 500 I watched on television was the 2011 event when Trevor Bayne won for the Wood Brothers. I had grown impatient with the constant yellow flags and contrived Green/White/Checker finishes and had begun to find Waltrip’s race call absolutely insufferable. As an adult with responsibilities and a wife, I just couldn’t commit to a four-hour event nearly every Sunday, even though I’d gladly block out an entire day for the Le Mans 24 or 6 hours for one of the lesser WEC events. I’d grown bored with the concept. 
When I was given the invitation to represent Hooniverse at the Daytona 500 as a guest of Valvoline, there was no way I would turn it down, fan of the series or not. It’s been a long off-season, and I was ready to see some racing in person. Rev up the engines, it’s time for some NASCAR! A couple long plane rides later, an hour sitting in a faulty plane at the gate at DFW, and I was in Orlando. Valvoline treated us to a nice southern dinner of bbq and beer on Saturday night, then off to the track Sunday morning. Here’s how my Daytona Sunday went as a former fan of the sport. I might have enjoyed myself regardless. 
[Disclaimer: Valvoline put me on a flight to Orlando, then a chartered bus to Daytona. Two nights of great hotels, great food, and great racing.]

Daytona Day: 
7:00 AM – The prior night I’d set two alarms on my iTelephone to be sure I’d be awake in time. One for 5:30 and another for 6:00. Unfortunately, I’d set them for “Repeat Every Weekday”, which was no good on a Sunday. A honking car outside finally woke me up just 30 minutes before our scheduled departure. Luckily I’d taken my shower the night before. 
7:30 AM – Clothed and in the lobby I had just enough time to get Starbuck’d before boarding the bus. One venti white chocolate mocha, please, I need some calories. 
8:50 AM – Roll through the gates of the famed Daytona International. I’ve been here before for the 24 hour race, but I’ve never seen quite so many people and travel RVs in one place. The track reported a sell-out crowd of over 125,000 people. This is our church, we are racing’s practitioners. 

9:00 AM – Introduced to Valvoline’s hospitality trailer in the infield. We’re situated just inside the track on the shores of the fabulous Lake Lloyd. From atop the trailer’s viewing stand, I can see most of the Superstretch, plus the important bits of the Turn 3 and Turn 4 complex. Decent views, to be sure. Here’s what the grand stands and infield looked like from my perspective.

9:15 AM – We head over to the garages behind pit road for a quick tour. NASCAR has given us 30 minute passes to get in, see some cool stuff and get the hell out. I snag a few photos, and then I’m told to put my camera away for a run through Chase Elliot’s car hauler. I was not allowed to take any photos inside the hauler, but it’s about what you’d expect. They have immaculately organized cabinets and tool chests fitted with every part of the car you could possibly need for a repair or tune, including a spare engine, a few dozen shock and spring setups, drawers full of suspension components, and even an entire spare car. The hauler has a shock dynamometer, an oil analysis station, a kitchen, and a team meeting room. It was pretty cool to see the inside. 

Here’s the hauler I went in. 

Here’s Chase’s pole-winning race car. He looked good for the victory, too, but ran just short on fuel. 

McLaren Technologies supplies the spec ECUs for NASCAR’s fuel injected engines. It was still a little wierd to see their logo among the haulers. 


It’s only March, but it’s already been a Good Year. 
9:50 AM – We’ve stayed a little bit beyond our welcome in the garage area, and have been forcibly removed. Just kidding, we had an engagement back at the Valvoline trailer to check out so we walked back. 
10:30 AM – Perfectly on time, Jimmie Johnson arrives for a meet&greet&Q&A with us. He was asked “Which of your seven championships is the most meaningful to you?” and he replied with a diplomatic “They’re all pretty great”. He did expound a bit later to say that his first championship was more a relief than anything, and his most recent, just last year, was probably the most exciting.

Jimmie is a pretty cool guy, and that beard game is on-point. 

Speaking of things that are on-point, his shoes are fly as hell. 
He was gone as soon as he’d arrived.
Jimmie would later crash out of the Daytona 500.
11:00 AM – A bit of a noise was overheard from across the way. Our hospitality center was located adjacent to the Nationwide Insurance hospitality. A big Chevy Tahoe pulled up and out jumped Dale Joonyer. Little E. Junebug. “Dang ‘ol Nashunwahd Is Awn Yer Sahd, Man”. 

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. would later crash out of the Daytona 500. 
11:30 AM – By this point there were still a few hours before the race started and no more appearances scheduled, so one of the other attendees and I decided to walk up to the Fan Zone to scope out the activities and maybe score a few pieces of memorabilia. I bought a New Holland. 

Then I bought a new Daytona International Speedway Personalized Shot Glass for my lovely wife back home. She’ll treasure it always. 

I stopped myself from buying one of these Daytona 500 Commemorative Hats because I’m not nearly American enough. 

But when I found out that this exists, I had to get one. A Diet Mountain Dew branded Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Duck Call with Carburetor and Headers. It’s called a “Dale Call” and it was forty dollars. You can buy one for a bit less on eBay

Noon – Got shouted at by a group of Evangelicals with megaphones preaching the second coming of Christ. Oh right, this is the south…

ToyotaGate? What’d they do wrong this time?

Say hello to the France’s.

Each of the entrances to the new grandstands is branded. These are called “Injectors”. NASCAR made sure that each of their partners used the phrase injector when talking about them. I particularly liked the Daytona-winning Penske Sunoco Lola T70 being used as the featured car on the wall there. 

Speaking of activated sponsorships, NASCAR is now title sponsored by Monster Energy, and they had this little travelling circus out front with little kids doing jumps and wheelies on motorbikes. I was happy to catch this kid on his bike going for a loop in the ball of death. 

Toyota’s “Injector” featured this very nice MKIV Supra. Not sure how NASCAR fans felt about it, though. Are they still salty about the whole Toyota in NASCAR thing? 

2001. I’ll always remember that race. 

Because of Dale. 
1:00 PM – Return to the Valvoline center of operations. Crack a cold one. Tap the Rockies.
2:00 PM – Owen Wilson is on the TV as the official Grand Marshall to promote the upcoming Cars 3 in which he still plays the voice of Lightning McQueen. “OH WOW, NASCAR!”

I lose track of time as the race looms nearer. 
There were a bunch of Chevy trucks. 

There was a flyover. Goodness I love flyovers. I’m not one for gratuitous displays of military prowess, but dammit if there isn’t something ridiculously cool about six jets ripping in formation overhead. 

Another plane was up there spelling out “U+GOD” for some reason. 

Meanwhile, at Daytona, order of priority is Dale Jr., then Trump, then The Confederacy. You gotta have priorities. 

Crack a beer, grab some grub, this show’s about to get underway. 

The engines are fired, and the ZL1 pace car is out there showing the pack around the track. I can’t believe it was almost a year ago that I got a ride along in Chevy’s pre-production ZL1. Here it is. It’s go-time. 
2:39 PM – The race starts. I grab a handful of cold beers so I don’t have to come down from my viewing stand for a while. Crack a brew. 
I would have been absolutely lost without this little machine. It’s a handheld video device that allows you to watch the live race broadcast in real time while also incorporating a radio scanner and the MRN radio race call. It was a necessary piece of kit to keep up with the pit stops when I couldn’t see pit lane. It was awesome to be able to continue to follow the field through the front stretch and turns 1 and 2, which I couldn’t see from my vantage. Fan Vision. It’s pretty great. 

Kyle Busch won the first stage. Kevin Harvick won the second stage. Neither of them would finish the race.
3:30 PM – I wrote a note in my notepad that I was impressed with how well Blaney was doing in the Wood Brothers car. A small team with a small budget, and he was able to run up front all day. He ultimately finished second. Crack a brew.
4:20 PM – Red flag out for the wreck that took Dale Jr out of the race. I come down from my perch to gnosh on some chicken wings. Crack a brew.

Under the red flag stoppage, some colleagues from the Microsoft hospitality center next door decide to have a shotgunning contest while one of their friends films it. I’ve never seen a more egregious appropriation of culture. Shame. Crack a brew, crack a brew, crack a brew. 
5:30 PM – Coming back to green for the third stage, there are three crashes in a row, each causing another yellow flag. Something like 30 laps are eaten up under caution. Crack so many brews. 
5:55 PM – “Who the fuck is Cole Whitt?” Crack a brew. 
6:00 PM – Once they decide to stay under green there’s some damn good racing. It’s all predicated on fuel strategy, and the pole sitter was gambling on just a little bit more caution. He ran out of fuel. 

6:10 PM – The last of the sunshine dips down behind the front straight grandstands, the entire track is in darkness. Temps get colder. Everything is glowing orange in the dusk light. In that moment it was the most beautiful goddamned thing I’d ever seen. Crack a brew. 

6:35 PM – One of the wildest race finishes I think I’ve ever seen. On par at least with the Indy 500 from last year. The race felt like an endurance event, because it was. Keep your nose clean and be on the right fuel strategy, and you’ll win. Kurt Busch took the victory, his first Daytona win. AJ Allmendinger was quoted as saying “It was a mess out there”. You’re goddamn right it was, a beautiful mess. 

7:30 PM – Goodbye Daytona, we’ll meet again soon. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 64 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop files here

7 responses to “The Daytona 500 Travelogue Experience”

  1. CarpeDeez Avatar

    Do you think with this new stage system we will see more finishes with fuel being a concern? It certainly adds another layer to the mix that made it exciting. My girlfriend who had never watched a NASCAR race seemed real into it the last few laps as people were dropping like flies running out of fuel.

    1. Bradley Brownell Avatar
      Bradley Brownell

      Probably no more than normal. A long race like Daytona, especially as the final 60 laps or so were green flag running, will have fuel strategy as a concern. It’ll probably be even less of a concern at short track races or road courses.

    2. outback_ute Avatar

      I doubt anything will change there, they’ll still try to stretch fuel and/or save time in the pits.
      This article reminds me of why we didn’t go to a Sprint Cup race on our trip to the States, it is pretty strange from an Australian perspective that there is nothing else on the the track besides a driver’s parade. Here there are always support races except when a race takes the whole day like the 12Hr.
      Instead we went on Friday & Saturday and saw two races plus the qualifying and practice. Even with pit access passes which cost more than the admission tickets combined, it cost less than the Sunday ticket.

  2. cap'n fast Avatar
    cap’n fast

    i see the new design COT based on the Prius and does any one know if autonomous cars will be available with manual transmissions???

  3. ninjacoco Avatar

    Oh, man. That reminds me of the time a fan at the Indy 500 tried to get me to shotgun a beer.
    I’d never done that before. It went exactly as poorly as you think it would.
    (I like to taste my beer, darn it! Savor it. Also, space it out.)

    1. Lokki Avatar

      Clearly not a Budweiser or Miller Lite drinker.

  4. Ol' Shel' Avatar
    Ol’ Shel’

    “Say hello to the France’s”
    To the France’s what?
    Or the France’s whom?
    What or who belongs to the Frances?
    And wouldn’t you want to say “hello” to whatever or whomever it is?

%d bloggers like this: