Every once in awhile you get to experience a weekend for the ages. This was my weekend. Thursday evening our son flew down to go with us to Daytona Beach and experience one of the greatest spectacles in sports — The Daytona 500! We have always been huge NASCAR fans, and to be able to go to the biggest race of them all was definitely something to check off the bucket list.
Friday morning we headed to Daytona International Speedway to spend the day in the Fanzone before the Gander RV Truck Series race Friday evening. In our opinion this is the best day to pay the extra $35 to go the infield where all the action is. It was really cool to go through the Turn 4 tunnel under the track to get to the infield where the race garages are, as well as an enormous number of campers, RVs and tents.
The people at Daytona have made it a truly memorable experience for fans, complete with food vendors, plenty of picnic tables, and a viewing deck on top of the garage to get an awesome view of the track.
Probably the most important feature is the window in each driver’s garage so you get to see the car, and if you’re lucky, the driver. There is even an opening at the bottom of the window so the driver can autograph memorabilia the fans have brought.
The great thing about doing this added experience on Friday is that the crowd is much smaller than Saturday or Sunday, so your chances of actually meeting a driver are greatly improved. However, since this was our first time, we had no expectations of actually seeing a driver, let alone getting an autograph.
Our son’s favorite, and now ours as well, is Ryan Blaney, driver of the number 12 car. As we approached his window, our son noticed he was, indeed, in his garage. To our complete surprise, he came over and began signing autographs. My son gave him is Ryan Blaney hat and he signed it.
Then my husband gave him his hat to sign. Now, we knew that Ryan was from Ohio because we followed his father, Dave, when he raced. So the look on his face when he signed my husband’s hat was priceless. You see, my husband handed him a Cleveland Browns hat! Ryan signed the hat and smiled as he handed it back to my husband.
Now, that experience alone would have made our weekend, but there was more excitement to come. We realized later in the day that our Fanzone ticket also got us onto the front stretch for pre-race! I sent the boys down while I sat with all our coolers in the seats. By now my step counter was up over 14,000 steps and I needed a break!
After a little while, my husband and I switched and I went down with my son. All I can say is that it was mind blowing. As lifelong race fans, it was like we were living a dream – a dream we paid only $35/each to be in. To be walking in the grass so many drivers have slid through in races past, and to be close to the trucks that were going to be racing soon, and to be standing on pit road was a goosebump experience. We’d done the Daytona track tour years ago and had been in this same place, but to be there on race day was indescribable.
As we were getting ready to go back to our seats across the track, we were told we had to wait until driver intros were over. So my son and I got to be in the infield for the whole pre-race ceremony. Unbelievable!
The truck race didn’t disappoint, with plenty of great racing. And we can now say we’ve been to the race that broke the record for the most cautions, with 12 accident-related cautions. The field started at 32 and ended with 8 trucks left!
We finally arrived back at our RV resort somewhere around one in the morning. We were exhausted, but were up and ready to go back on Saturday for the Exfinity Series NASCAR Racing Experience 300. This was way a little more subdued, with us watching practice and watching the race. However, it really was hard to compete with Friday!
The Daytona 500 on Sunday was awesome from start to finish. Our seats were on the top row in turn four and we’re definitely where we could see all the action. The Blue Angel flyover was amazing, and hearing and feeling the roar of 40 engines was something we’ll never forget. There were several crashes on our end of the track, fortunately due to the safety restraints and precautions, no drivers were injured. But there were a lot of wrecked cars. Out of 40 that started, we counted 16 left at the end.
I must say that Daytona certainly was entertaining and memorable! And the best part was seeing the same excitement on my almost 26 year old son’s face that I used to see when we were at a NASCAR race when he was 10 years old.
Jennifer Skinnell is the author of the Hope Springs Romance Series available at her author page.
Check out her website, Jennifer Skinnell Quilting, for more info on her series.