The Daytona 500 Experience

Daytona 500 Pit Road

This past week we finally made a trip to the premier Nascar event — the Daytona 500 — and “experience” is the best way to describe it. Not many sports hold their “super bowl” event on opening weekend, but Nascar sure makes a show out of it. This year was also the 50th running of the race, so the celebrities and celebrations were above and beyond the norm.

For the racing itself and the wow factor for being there, I’d give Daytona top marks. Anyone who considers themselves a Nascar fan should attend this race at least once. It’s easily the largest event I’ve been to — attendance is not published officially but is close to 200,000.

Regarding the amenities like parking, seating, and facilities, this track is average at best. I’m sure the VIPs and celebrities were comfortable, but the rest of us suffered through grandstands that appear to be older than 50 years. Hopefully Nascar has plans for some improvements at this track.

We stayed a few miles from the track in Ormond Beach, where Daytona racing had its first start on the beach road course. I’d definitely stay there again.

As for the big race, it was pretty typical with drivers playing follow-the-leader for about the first half of the race, then getting more exciting towards the end. No “big one” crashes, but there were a few little ones. At the end, Ryan Newman got a push from his teammate on the last lap and won it. Newman is a somewhat neutral character in Nascar circles, so the crowd was pretty mild when he one. If one of the more popular or polarizing drivers had won, there would have been a lot more smack talking going on.

We kind of like Ryan Newman in part because he’s got an engineering degree from Purdue (we engineers have to stick together). Today I spotted a funny article that says Ryan’s dad isn’t too happy with the school:

If Greg Newman has anything to say about it, none of the $1.5 million his son earned for winning Sunday’s Daytona 500 will be going to Purdue University.

Ryan was racing on weekends and won the 1999 U.S. Auto Club Silver Crown title while attending Purdue. But he wasn’t recognized by the school as being a student-athlete, his father said, and thus wasn’t allowed any scheduling flexibility with his assignments.

Assistant athletic director Tom Schott’s response was priceless:

“We have 18 varsity sports here, but we don’t have varsity auto racing,” Schott said.

I put the best of my pictures online in this Flickr collection: