America’s Great Race
The Complete Beginner’s Guide to the Daytona 500 Races:
As a long-time resident of Daytona Beach, it is difficult to remember my early days of exploring the city and surrounding areas; my most dusty memories were of the white dunes and sea oats clinging steadfast in the wind, the waves curling and spouting white foam on angry autumn afternoons, the sand speckled avenues and parks along the river, and the towering spires of metal that hid the asphalt where machines would circle at over 200 miles per hour and rumble like a distant swarm of honey bees that could be heard from miles around. The racetrack was, to me, iconic as the beaches, swaying palms, and neon signs that adorned the hotels along A1A. I can remember shooting up the elevators to the top of the backstretch and stepping out into the hot February air, feeling dizzy at the scale of it all. Even though many a February have come and gone, the feeling has not dissipated. The rippling heat off the high curves, the thick smell of oil soaked cloth, and the distant, methodical screech of lug-nuts being loosened from their wheels all bring me back to those old memories.
The Daytona 500 kicks off this weekend and the monumental event might appear daunting to many. In this week’s article, I will talk about all the races associated with the Daytona 500 (both before and after) and how each of them holds a special place in the heart of race fans everywhere.
Officially, the Daytona 500 starts at 2:30 PM on Saturday, February 17th, but the festivities occupy the entire weekend. Kicking off the events is the Gander RV duel this evening; it consists of two 150-mile (240 km) races, which both serve as a qualifying race for the Daytona 500. The finishing order in the two 150-mile (240 km) races, held on the Thursday before the Daytona 500, determine the starting lineup for the Daytona 500 held on race day.
On Friday, the Nextera Energy 250 brings Daytona’s only Gander Truck series to the speedway making it an event worth attending. Well-known for close finishes and risky moves by drivers, this race is considered one of the most exciting to take place at the Daytona Speedway. In addition to the race, there are ample opportunities to get autographs, shop for official gear, and grab food and beverages in the Midway.
On this usually sunny day in late February, the best drivers from around the world converge on this sacred track to test their metal against one another and against the constraints of time and technology. The victor, here, will not only be awarded with prizes and glory, but will be immortalized in the racing canon forever. This is the Daytona 500. After all drivers have qualified and passed rigorous inspections, they will be cleared to race and the Daytona 500’s 500 mile-long trek will begin dwindling closer to that penultimate checkered flag and the chance at a spot in racing legend.
Wake up early and walk around the track. There is live music, great food, live sports broadcasters feeling out the energy of the crowd, and, of course, loads of merchandise to purchase. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a driver or two before they only resemble a blur of steel and rubber trackside. For the little ones, there are a plethora of interactive activities to try including pit row experiences, VR racing simulators, obstacle courses and bounce houses and many more.
If you are traveling solo or with only adults, the infield is the place to be. Walk on the track and sign the start-finish line, all with a beer in your hand. The track allows for individual coolers to be used, as long as they meet certain parameters. Check the Daytona 500 website for all details. The infield also offers live music, carnival rides, and celebrity interviews all while boasting some of the best track views available with complete 360 degree access.
Hopefully this article provided some information into the events leading up to the world’s most storied race. For all other information, follow the provided link to access a full schedule of events for the Daytona International Speedway and surrounding areas. As always, thank you for reading and happy trails!