Friday, February 22, 2013

Our Day at Daytona

(Avon Park, FL) Hi 83  Lo 62 – It’s nice to have something to blog about instead of our normal day of coffee, computers, walk, cards, TV, and chat room. Yesterday we left around 9am for Daytona International Speedway for the Budweiser Duels. They’re two 150-mile races that set the starting lineup for this Sunday’s Daytona 500.  According to Google Maps the 120-mile drive should have taken just a little over two hours. But due to the horrendous traffic on I-4 in the Orlando area (some of it construction-related) it took us about two hours and 45 minutes.

Daytona Speedway offers free parking at their mammoth Lot 7, which is about two miles north of the track. It was smooth getting to the lot and parked, then we boarded one of the many shuttle busses that took us right to the pedestrian overpass that crosses U.S. 92 in front of the track. (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

I’m glad we’ve both been doing our daily walks, because we sure covered some distance before we got to our seats. We wanted to do a little souvenir shopping, so from the overpass we had to head to the turn four area to the “Midway,” where you’ll find dozens of corporate displays, entertainment stages, games, and finally souvenir row where all the souvenir trailers are located. This is the Ford display.

This is one of the games we got a kick out of. Any watcher of the game show The Price Is Right will recognize this as the world’s largest Plinko game.

Dee’s a big Jeff Gordon fan, and has rooted for him since we started watching him race at age 17. I haven’t had a real “favorite” driver since Richard Petty retired. The past several years I guess I’ve rooted the most for Gordon and Tony Stewart (and whoever is driving Richard Petty’s 43 car). But starting last year when she drove in the Nationwide series, I’ve become a huge Danica Patrick fan. She’s a pretty polarizing figure in NASCAR. People tend to either love her or hate her. I’ve always had a soft spot for female drivers in NASCAR, and Danica is the first one who is in the best situation to succeed. She has the car and the team, and I think she has the talent. But in the end, she has to perform. If and when she gets her first win, lookout world! NASCAR’s popularity (especially among women) will explode. (And some of that publicity that she gets, which drives the “haters” crazy, will be justified.)

But back to our day… We stopped by the Jeff Gordon booth where Dee bought a t-shirt, and then we went to the Danica Patrick booth, the most crowded of them all. Here I am waiting in the long line to buy a hat. (That’s me in the tan vest.)

After our shopping trip we made the long walk to our grandstand, which was between the start/finish line and turn one. This is the main grandstand and press box from outside the track.

Just for fun Dee started the Runkeeper app on her smart phone when we crossed the pedestrian bridge coming from the shuttle bus. When we got to our seats it showed we had walked 2.3 miles. Daytona is a huge place!

Our seats were at the exit of pit road in row 41, which offered a great view of the whole track.

This huge video screen was right across from us. You can see turn two of the track ahead in the distance to the right of the video screen.

The pre-race activities included an appearance by the famous Budweiser Clydesdales. We lived for many years in the St. Louis area where they’re based, and we’ve seen them many times. But they still give us a thrill when we see them.

The pit stalls of our two favorite drivers were right in front of us. But they didn’t race against each other this day because they were in separate races.

A neat part of being at a race is seeing things you don’t normally see on TV. Like this cable cam. It’s suspended over the homestretch and zips along, controlled by an operator in the TV production truck, to give you those long sweeping views of the cars going down the homestretch. It was amusing to see it moving back and forth during the races.

Here’s a closer view of it.

When the drivers are introduced they jump in the bed of a pickup truck and ride down the homestretch to wave at the fans. Here’s my girl Danica.

One of the more moving sights (to me anyway) at a race is how the pit crews line up during the National Anthem. I should have gotten a wider shot to show all the crews down pit lane, but this gives you an idea. (Every other pit stall is empty because they’ll be used in the second of the two races.)

Finally it was time to crank ‘em up and get the first race underway. Here are the cars rolling down pit road behind the pace car, with Danica on the pole in the green car.

Here’s the starting field slowly going through turns one and two.

And then through turns three and four.

Danica was the fastest qualifier in time trials last week so she is guaranteed to start the Daytona 500 on the pole this Sunday. Jeff Gordon was second fastest so he’s guaranteed the other front row starting spot. As a result of having guaranteed starting spots on the front row neither one of them really had anything on the line in these two races. Here the pace car leads the field across the start/finish line with one lap to go before the green flag. Danica started the race at the front.
But note where she was running after just a few laps… dead last!
Apparently it was her strategy to drop to the rear of the field and protect her car for the big race on Sunday. I can understand her team’s reasoning, but it sure is disappointing to her fans who pay good money to watch her race. Heck, I spent $25 dollars for a Danica hat… the least she could do is mix it up a little with the guys for part of the race anyway! Oh well…

Here’s one last picture of her, during one of her two pit stops in the race.

Kevin Harvick won the first race, and Danica ended up finishing 17th (out of 22 or 23 cars). She never led a lap. I wish her luck Sunday, but I can’t help thinking she would have benefited from running in the pack for awhile to get some experience.

The second race was a lot like the first, not much “racing” and a lot of single file running. Jeff Gordon started on the pole (the #24 car).

Here’s a closer look at Jeff Gordon. That's Ryan Newman in the #39 (Danica's teammate).

I had to include a shot of the #43 car, driven by Aric Almirola but owned by Richard Petty Motorsports. Richard Petty drove the #43 for over 30 years from 1959 to 1992.

Here’s the field coming down for the start.

And off into turn one.

Jeff Gordon led for 38 of the 60 laps; no dropping to back to protect his car for him. He received a penalty for driving too fast down pit road and dropped out of contention. Kyle Busch won the race in the #18 M and M’s sponsored car.

Melba and Ed, two friends who we met a few weeks ago, sat two rows down from us. It was too crowded and hectic to socialize with them before or during the races, but we met up with them afterward as we made our way out.

Dee, Melba, and Ed.

Here’s a couple more photos of the track that we took on our way out.

Colorful seats!

The flag stand at the start/finish line. Now THAT would be a great place to watch the race!

Peeking through the fence at the start/finish line down toward turn one.

We hiked the long way back to the shuttle bus area for the ride back to the parking lot. Here’s what we faced.

There were several “pens” for the different busses, with the waiting lines going back and forth, back and forth, just like at Disney World. It took us 45 minutes from that point to finally get on a bus. At least there was a big video screen to keep us entertained while we waited. They showed race highlights.

We got back to the car and zipped right out of the parking lot (one benefit of the shuttle service, thousands of people didn’t arrive at the parking lot at the same time.) Of course the traffic pattern routed us NORTH of the track to Ormond Beach, when we needed to go SOUTH. So we took the opportunity to stop at an Appleby’s for some dinner before the 2-plus hour trip home.

Overall it was a fun day, although the racing wasn’t much to brag about. It was nice to get back to a NASCAR race. It’s been years since we’ve last been to one. Here’s a summary of what you’re in for if you ever decide to go to a race:
  • Tickets: Average about $100 for a decent seat for most races. Our seats (very good ones) were $105 each, and these were merely support races.
  • Trip to the track: incredibly heavy traffic when you get near the track.
  • Parking: Usually upwards of $10 or more, but some tracks provide free parking.
  • Souvenirs: Expensive! In our case, $25 for a t-shirt and $25 for a hat. (Imagine having a couple or kids begging for your to buy them stuff.)
  • Walking: Lots of it. In our case probably a total of 4 miles or more for the day.
  • Once you're in your seats: Usually you're in the hot sun, for an hour or two before the race and three-plus hours during the race.
  • Noise: Lots of it (but it’s a beautiful sound!). Daytona isn’t as bad as most tracks because it’s so big, and the cars tend to run in a big pack. So except for when the pack roars by, you can actually hear the race announcers.
  • View of the race: At Daytona, not very good. Although you can see about 95% of the track surface, it's so big (2 1/2 miles around) that when the cars are in the turns and the backstretch, they’re REALLY small. We found ourselves watching the big video screen in the infield as much as the live race.
  • Standing: Prepare for lots of it. Everyone stands at the start and the first 10 laps or so, they stand on restarts, they stand whenever there’s a lead change, and they stand during the last few laps.
  • Food: Like the souvenirs, expensive. I spent $8 bucks for two under-cooked hot dogs, and Dee spent $7 for a cheese steak sandwich. We drank our own water (sodas start at $4).
  • Leaving after the race: Extremely crowded, and slow. After the long walk back to your car you'll likely wait sometimes two hours before you can even move. In our case yesterday that time was spent waiting for a shuttle bus and the ride back to our car.
  • The trip home: long and tiring.
The bottom line is, we left at 9am yesterday morning and got home at 9:45pm, and spent well over $300 total during that time (tickets, food, souvenirs). Was it worth it? We used to LOVE going to NASCAR races. We went to 4 or 5 races per year back in the 90’s when we lived in NC. We even had radio scanners so we could listen to the drivers communicate with their crews. But now? Due to our increasing age, and limited finances, we’d rather watch the races from the comfort of our recliners on our HD TV. I can't help but think more and more NASCAR fans feel the same way. When we watch the races on TV we usually see a lot of empty seats at most of the tracks during the season. Cute story… yesterday there was a little excitement as two drivers battled for the lead the last couple of laps. Everyone was standing (naturally)… except Dee. When I asked her why she wasn’t standing, she said, “I can see the race just fine on the big TV in the infield.” I think that just about sums it up.

That was yesterday. Today? Coffee, computers, walk, cards, TV, and chat room. Back to the grind. :)

Our son and daughter in law are on a church mission trip to Nairobi, Kenya. They have updated their their trip blog, and you can click here if you're interested in reading it. It's the final goodbyes and summary of what they've been doing. 


Chuck and Anneke's RV travels said...

Daytona looks a lot different than when we were there for the Good Sam Rally!

Barbara said...

You had me after the first 2.3 miles of walking! That place is huge but I would have loved to be there. In the picture of the pit crews standing for the anthem, what is the purpose of the walkway overhead?

Mike and Terri said...

Sounds like you had a great day of walking, standing, waiting, sitting, spending money, driving, having fun, and watching some racing too. I looked for you on TV but didn't see you two. I watched the races from the best seat in the house... my recliner. :)

Tumbleweed Jim said...

Barbara, if you're asking about the long blue structure in the photo, that's the roof over the grandstand behind the pits. Jim

Jim and Sandie said...

Were you guys at the race track today? I sure hope not. Worried about you.

Margie and Roger said...

I really enjoyed your comments about your time at Daytona. Living in Florida now, I keep feeling as if we should go to Daytona. My retirement goal was to attend each race. I've made 3 of them, so felt that Daytona and Homestead should be next. After reading your review, I think we'll just stay home and watch them all on our 55" HDTV. I was surprised that you had free parking - but all that walking and waiting didn't sound like fun. Bet you were happy for Danica last Sunday. I'm a Dale Jr. fan so I was happy too. Can't wait for today's race....from the comfort of my recliner, ha ha.