By Mary Gallagher
First, a little history…
When I started to do research on attractions I had visited in Daytona, Florida, I didn’t even know that NASCAR stood for the National Association for Stock Car Racing. Just one of those facts that slipped by this woman’s education! Now I can’t stand the sun or the noise so this isn’t likely to become my favorite spectator sport. However the history is fascinating and I highly recommend visiting the fun and educational Daytona Speedway even if you’re not a big fan. Plus if you sit and watch a race on television with someone who has never been there you can really impress them with your “been there done that” repartee.
In 1936, Daytona City officials decided to sponsor a 250-mile stock car race that combined beach and road racing placing the backstretch and turns on the sand and the front straightaway on the closest paved road.
If a car racing on the beach went too slow, they could get stuck in the sand. If they went too fast, rolling over was a danger. This meant actual race speeds were slower than expected making the race longer. As luck would have it and like every other day since the beginning of time, the tide started rising and blocked the north beach turn. Then cars were stuck in the sand at the 200-mile mark also blocking the track.
Twenty-seven drivers had entered, including a young racer named William “Bill” France who drove a Ford. The winner, Milt Marion, took home $1,700 in prize money. France came in fifth and received $375. At the time, the minimum weekly wage was $14.50.
This was the backbone of the formation of NASCAR by France, who in February 1948, formed the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. It was just after World War II and everyone wanted a change to a bigger, better, faster and more exciting world and stock car racing fit the bill. France also founded the International Speedway Corporation (ISC) which operated the Daytona International Speedway, built in 1959 and the Talladega, AL, Superspeedway, built in 1969.
In 1955, Mercury motor boat builder Carl Keikhaefer became the first major sponsor for a race team. NASCAR has expanded its goals by organizing a licensing program that has attracted many major sponsors. The average cost to back a race team today has passed $6 million annually.
In fact, I have been amused by macho drivers and other sports figures endorsing various products well beyond automotive and athletic shoes to now include medications and the infamous Viagra partnership with Mark Martins, car #6 and his classic television commercials.
Some old-time NASCAR drivers were involved in the profession of bootlegging and immortalized in the movie with Burt Reynolds “Smokey and the Bandit”.
Bootleggers used fast cars reaching speeds of 95 mph in first gear, 115 mph in second. Many also showed their racing prowess to a larger audience on the track. During this time, few police cars could go faster than 95 mph.
Junior Johnson, dubbed “the last American Hero”, trained by being chased on back roads by the “Feds”. He finally transferred this extraordinary talent to the track. In 1956, after he had gained attention for his racing skills, he was trapped by the police at his father’s still and spent two years in jail. He still won 50 races, putting him eighth on the all-time list of winners.
Herb Thomas, one of the early stars of NASCAR used to play his car’s radio during racing events and another driver had a pet monkey ride along. The great stories go on and on.
To experience a slightly different and highly colorful slant on these early years go to www.SmokeyYunick.com and/or pick up his books and tapes on the history of racing. Here is a short synopsis on this colorful icon of racing.
Around 1995, Smokey realized that all the people who were a part of the early days of racing were dying so he started writing his first volume, Walkin’ Under a Snake’s Belly, covering his life outside of racing, beginning with growing up on a farm in Pennsylvania, dropping out of high school to take care of the family and going off to World War II as a B-17 pilot.
The second volume, All Right You Sons-a-Bitches, Let’s Have a Race, chronicles the stock car racing years in living color. The warning on these books, that they are not to be read by those under 18 unless with an adult who can translate the social and moral implications of the stories, is not to be taken lightly. (Smokey even includes his own dictionary to explain the terms that racers used in the early days). Smokey and his band of merry compatriots were racers and there were only two things on their mind when the sun went down – women and booze. Although, nothing could stop his dream of being the fastest at the sport he loved, no matter what happened along the way.
The first half of the third volume, Li’l Skinny Rule Book, covers his over 20 year love of the famed Indianapolis 500 and the wonderful stories of the days before big corporate sponsors; when it was just men and their machines, sleeping on the floor in the garage and many times coming home with nothing. As the title implies, Smokey loved Indy because the rules were so simple.
The second half of the third volume, Eatin’ an Elephant, covers his years of inventing inside and outside of racing. Smokey’s 10 patents don’t begin to cover the breadth and depth of his inventing. His work with the car companies and on the race track led to a host of developments that have improved surface transportation for everyone. The value of some, like his famous hot vapor engine, were never fully realized. Real stories from World War II, stock cars, the automotive industry and the Mexican Road Race are just a few of the elements in Smokey’s autobiography.
After the racing years ended, Smokey spent most of his time working on his inventions and in the oil and gold fields of Ecuador. Along the way, Smokey had a knack for finding fun and adventure everywhere he went.
At the Daytona Speedway
Prior to having an enclosed speedway, race fans could just sit among the sand dunes at the beach and enjoy the race – for free. Today NASCAR boasts 12 racing divisions in three geographical tiers running more than 2,200 sanctioned events a year at 133 tracks in 38 states. It is the largest spectator sport in the United States. Tracks like the Kentucky Speedway covering 1,000 acres can encompass campgrounds, RV parks and more.
After lunch we stopped to visit the Daytona Speedway and to be truthful, I could have spent a lot more time then allowed. Although no races were running that day, just seeing the role reversal OF ALL TIME with the men inside the Pit Shop onsite store actually buying large quantities of “treasures” while a number of wives and other female companions waited outside, leaning up against a wall and rolling their eyes, was worth the ticket alone.
In addition to 10 weekends of major racing activity, the 480-acre speedway property is used for civic and social gatherings, car shows, photo “shoots,” production vehicle testing and police motorcycle training.
We spent a very short time in the DAYTONA USA interactive motorsports attraction. Now say the words interactive and I run as fast as possible for the nearest exit. I’m not of the interactive era or personality type and seven year olds can beat me at any electronic game. But here the hands-on interactive shows and other attractions can easily absorb several hours of someone with even my limitations.
There is Speed Channel’s “You Call the Race,” where guests play TV announcer and “call” a major Daytona race finish; EA Sports NASCAR Thunder presented by Valvoline, allows participants to use computer technology to drive a stock car on the high banks of Daytona; and at Heroes of the Track, question one of your favorite NASCAR drivers using DVD technology.
In DuPont’s Technology of Speed, Jeff Gordon’s car actually comes apart in front of your eyes. At the High Banks of Daytona section complete with three full-size stock cars on this 4-story wall of pavement you’ll come face-to-face with the famous 31-degree banked turns of Daytona International Speedway.
It was amazing how many recognizable names, memories and other history you’ll recall (even a non-fan) at the life-size time line of racing in Daytona and NASCAR’s beginnings at the Goodyear Heritage of Daytona exhibit. The Pepsi Theater features “The DAYTONA 500,” which transports you to race day and right into the action on a screen 55 feet wide and almost three stories tall.
Daytona Dream Laps is an IWERKS Motion Simulator ride based on NASCAR Winston Cup’s premier race, the Daytona 500. The ride seats 32 for a full-range motion experience of racing at the high banks of Daytona International Speedway.
Acceleration Alley put this “guest” in the driver’s seat where she even had trouble buckling up after falling into the car! I couldn’t open the door to get out either. One can accelerate to over 200 mph in 80-percent scale NASCAR simulators that combine bone jarring motion – I had suspended mine, video projection and sound for the ultimate head-to-head racing experience. All the “girls” loved this one. It hurt my bones with no padding anywhere. I drove on the grass a lot at 160 mph and hit a few walls but would do it again in a minute. You get a print out of your performance including speeds.
A few years ago on television, I interviewed police women at all ranks in various agencies, when asked why they wanted to be a cop the majority said to drive fast legally! Well it must have been more than that as they all had outstanding service records.
We also took the 30-minute, guided tour of the Speedway where you ride on an open-air tram through the garage area, pit road and world-famous 31-degree high banks. The tour is narrated and describes each area of the track you pass. Stops at Pit Road and near Victory Lane are included if track activities permit. This was a great tour and similar to the one I took at the Indianapolis Speedway many years ago. If it is unmercifully hot you will really notice it on the open tram. Trees have never been a big landscaping factor at speedways. Always have water, wear sunscreen and a hat. The track tour normally runs from 9:30am – 5pm daily except during race-time events or inclement weather.
On the track tour we took time to watch visitors pony up the $106 each to experience the Richard Petty Driving Experience Ride Along Program. Available to ages 16 and older (16 – 18 yr. old will be required to provide valid photo ID and have a guardian signature in order to ride).
It is not necessary to make advance reservations for the Richard Petty Ride Along Program but recommended that you call DAYTONAUSA Guest Services at (386) 947-6530 to verify program dates before traveling long distances.
The rides are also subject to weather and track conditions. In the event of a rain out, your Richard Petty Ride Along Program ticket will be honored for the remainder of the season.
There are no clothing requirements for the Ride Along except perhaps shoes. We saw young girls in shorts and skimpy tops take the ride but everyone was dressed in the orange protective jump suits before they could enter the car. Young long haired blond women with short shorts seemed the most frequent participants of this attraction.
The Pit Shop reminded me of Las Vegas – lots of men but they all had that glazed over “headlights in the eye” look. The Shop is very large and carries DAYTONA USA, Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR and race team merchandise. In addition specially-designed clothing, postcards, books and other collectibles. Items in all price ranges.
An entertaining attraction for fans of all ages and interesting enough for most non-fans too.
Daytona International Speedway and Daytona USA
Each Richard Petty Driving Experience Ride ticket (3 times around the track) includes ONE COMPLIMENTARY admission to DAYTONAUSA / Speedway Tour. Ticket Costs: $106.00 (includes tax).
DAYTONA USA admission prices:
Seniors (60+) $17.00
Children (6-12) $14.00 (Children 5 and under free with paying adult)
DAYTONA USA Annual Pass $49.00
Located at one mile east of I-95 on U.S. 92 (W. International Speedway Blvd.)
1801 W. International Speedway Blvd.
Daytona Beach, FL 32114
Open Daily 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Except Christmas; extended hours during peak seasons.
Phone Number: (386)947-6800 At the web site click on the Experience to visit all the features of Daytona USA. www.daytonaspeedway.com
The Pit Shop Open 9am – 7pm daily
Online ISC Motorsports store: dbserver.iscmotorsports.com
Phone (904) 947-6855
Fax (904) 947-6814
Other interesting web sites regarding racing and racing history.
Carbon Press, LC • 866.SMOKEY2 (766.5392) • fax 208.441.8336
957B N Beach St • Daytona Beach, FL 32117