Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Changing Daytona

From the Super Bowl to the Daytona 500 is a big jump, but since the NFL moved their big game back a week, the two biggest events in football and auto racing now follow each other just two weeks apart. Detroit was miserable and everybody knows it. They got a free pass from most of the media because they knew it was going to be miserable and the people tried hard.

You can basically hold the Super Bowl anywhere because most of the parties are indoors and in plush places. Those people in Detroit do have a lot of nerve picking on Jacksonville though. But when you get down to it, the people who attend the Super Bowl don’t want free concerts and an outdoor party atmosphere. They want late-night parties, strip clubs, casinos and cocktails that last deep into the night. If they could hold the game in Las Vegas, they’d think it was perfect.

Daytona is a whole different story though.

It’s people from everywhere, from all over the world and from every economic category you can think of. They’ve dubbed it “Speedweeks” in Daytona, bracketing the few weeks between the 24 Hours of Daytona and the Daytona 500 as one huge event. It’s now three weeks of races, preliminaries, hype and parties. They might call it a celebration of speed, but it’s really a fix for anybody who loves the smell of burning rubber and gasoline and gets a shot of adrenaline every time somebody zips by at more than 100 mph.

And likes to be seen at the place to be seen.

I’ve never been a big fan of the actual racing but have grown to appreciate it and admire all that goes into it. I like hanging around the garage area and seeing the meticulous details that are ironed out before a car hits the track. I have driven at Daytona, getting the car up to over 160 and that was a thrill, so I can appreciate somebody who’s just wild about the sport. And there are plenty of those.

It’s certainly more corporate than it used to be. From the fans to the drivers it’s a little more rehearsed, more refined if you will. Tents are still pitched in the infield between turns three and four at Daytona but they’re far outnumbered by the luxury buses and campers that are parked throughout the infield for the week leading up to The Great American Race. The days of catching a minute with the drivers in the garage area are gone, replaced by scheduled press conferences. Fans are still drinking plenty of beer and brown liquor at the track, but now white wine seems to be as popular.

And there are as many ladies rooms as bathrooms for guys. There used to be one in the infield, and it was always empty.

It’s not quite as fun as it once was, with the driver’s personalities driving the sport and the fan loyalty to a particular driver starting plenty of fights among friends.

When Jimmy Johnson won the 500 on Sunday, there was a collective shrug among the 200,000 plus fans at the track. No hooting and hollering and partying well into the night. Johnson’s proclamations in Victory Lane included all of the right people and no controversy, despite being found to be a cheat earlier in the week. His answers were nice neat and sound bite length, and I didn’t see a drip of chew anywhere.

It’s another shift in the personality of the sport.

From Richard and Cale, to Dale and Darrell and then Jeff, it’s now all guys who were trained to be drivers from birth. But it’s bigger than ever and includes just about everybody and there’s plenty of money to go around.

As long as NASCAR stays “cool” they’ll continue to grow. If not, we’ll all just have to become Tony Stewart fans.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Detroit’s XL

You could only chuckle when the reports about Detroit hosting the Super Bowl started coming in. The game was awarded to the Motor City as a nod to the car manufacturers, William Clay Ford the owner of the Lions, Roger Penske and as a reward for building a new stadium.

Detroit’s like any other “Old World” city. Industry has come and gone, jobs have come and gone, people are trying to move out and the town is dark and gray in the winter. Unless you’re in the car business, nobody’s moving to Detroit. But like any of the established cities in the US, there are nice places to be found.

Gross Pointe, Bloomfield Hills, Troy, they’re all suburbs, just like suburbs anywhere else: nice neighborhoods, good places to live and raise kids. There are hockey leagues everywhere and they celebrate their cold weather as part of the culture. In fact, people are proud of their ability to endure, to overcome the things that are part of living in a place that has snow, sleet, and cold temperatures.

Detroit is the hometown of sportswriter Mitch Albom (he also wrote Tuesdays With Morrie) who wrote a touchy-feely piece about warmth of character of the people of Detroit. His point was that there’s some nobility in working two jobs to make ends meet. He compared his town to Orlando and Disney World saying that’s a fabricated world and Detroit is real.

And I don’t disagree with any of that.

If you’re living in Detroit either you have to or you want to. There’s no in between. Either you can’t leave or you really want to stay. That’s not the case is most of the cities hosting the Super Bowl, including Jacksonville. Nobody has to live in Jacksonville. They’re not tied to the company store, the job at the mill or the mine. People live there because the living is easy and nice. And there’s plenty of “warmth of character” among the people who live there as well.

I’m over all of the shots the media took at Jacksonville last year. I’ve always said you have to let the city reveal itself to you instead of it slapping you in the face as soon as you get there. But I’m still a little frosted about the continued snide comments from poorly dressed, over-fed, ill-informed, self-important hacks who spent four days there and all of the sudden became experts.

One writer wrote the 16 reasons the Super Bowl is ok in Detroit. Reasons #2 and #14 were “It’s not Jacksonville.”

Detroit is getting nice reviews for their “hospitality” and the people have been nice. Kind of standoffish, but nice. Motown does have casinos, something most people I’ve talked to didn’t know. But the people who are visiting have figured that out right away. Maybe that’s why Detroit is getting a little bit of a pass. That, and everybody knew the weather was going to be a factor (bad).

So Jacksonville suffered from; 1) nobody knew what to expect, 2) no casinos, 3) not enough hotel rooms and 4) no strip joints. At least that’s what seems to be the general consensus of those who are in Detroit this week. It is Detroit after all.