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.