MONTE DUTTON – THE BIRD’S EYE VIEW OF THE DAYTONA 500
I can’t imagine why NASCAR would run the Daytona 500, its biggest race, with one set of rules, and then abandon those rules for the rest of the season. It’s like telling the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams they have to play the Super Bowl with the players on the 2017 roster.
Okay, it’s not exactly the same because other sports have their biggest spectacle at the end, not the beginning, of the season. It’s not the Patriots and Rams. It’s like the Patriots and Rams. A simile, not a metaphor.
To simplify past the point of ruin, it’s goofy.
But it’s still the Daytona 500. The winner will show up on TV morning, afternoon and night for a week. In general, people will act as if it has something to do with the rest of the season.
Bobby Allison won the first Daytona 500 I saw. Dale Jarrett won the first one I described in words. The last time I attended the 500, Matt Kenseth won.
Back in 1993, everything was packed. The place was about three-quarters full for the Busch Clash and 90-percent-plus for every other race: twins, IROC, Busch, Cup. Traffic was a major hassle. On Sunday, I’d drive to the track before daylight. I hate traffic. About the only time I see traffic now, there’s a wreck on the interstate.
The scariest day of Speedweeks was Thursday because the twin qualifiers had thoroughly desperate men in them. If things didn’t go right, a pretty decent driver could go home. They were then in the daytime. On Thursday night, weary scribes drove directly from the track to the Boothill Saloon. Friday was useful for a restorative round of golf after a hustling morning cranking out copy.
On Sunday morning, I’d take my bag to the press box, leave it at my spot, and walk down into the empty stands. Old sports edifices always have ghosts in the echoes. I’d remember those radio openings by Ken Squier from my youth.
“Forty-two automobiles, decorated in every color of the rainbow, are lined up on the starting grid here in Daytona Beach, Florida, the Birthplace of Speed, for the Great American Race, the Daytona 500.”
In time, the sun would come up over the Atlantic, and at the first crank of a racing engine, hundreds, maybe thousands, of seagulls would rise in choreographed fright.
The seagulls are the ones that get it right. It’s what the Daytona 500 is. Choreographed fright.