Article and Photography by Joshua Eller | Owl Staff
In Florida, there is a beach unlike any other. Here you can walk in the footsteps of legends and if you listen closely, you can almost hear the roar from the crowd of fans as forty-three cars race off into the turns. It’s a place called Daytona, and it was here that NASCAR was born.
Founded in 1948, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is the second most watched sport in the country according to scenedaily.com. NASCAR currently governs eleven series and sanctions more than 1500 races a year. Not bad for a sport that developed around bootleggers running moonshine during Prohibition.
From Daytona in February to Homestead, Miami in November, many fans cheer on their favorite driver while watching the races on TV. Still nothing compares to seeing a race in person. During race week a track can take on the appearance of a small city as thousands descend on them with some even camping there for most of the week.
Many people ask, “How can you stand to sit there and watch people drive around in circles for hours?”
It’s not just driving around in circles; it’s watching as forty-three drivers race inches apart at speeds close to two hundred miles per hour as different strategies can lead to heartbreak like Mark Martin losing the Daytona 500 for a twenty-third time by just a couple of inches; or triumph like legendary Wood Brothers Racing and Rookie Trevor Bayne winning the Daytona 500 in just his third career start.
HCC student David Bush says, “I always thought the races looked boring on TV. But then I attended a race at Dover. It’s a completely different atmosphere to see it in person. It’s amazing to see the excitement as forty-three cars fly by at two hundred mph.”
Today the slightest error on the racetrack can have disastrous consequences. It can lead to terrible crashes like Joey Logano’s car flipping seven times at Dover in 2009. Due to the safety of the cars, like in most wrecks today, Logano was able to walk away uninjured but still a driver is sometimes injured.
In the 1980s Ricky Rudd crashed at Daytona, cracking ribs and bruising his eyes so bad they were swollen shut. Instead of sitting out, Rudd duct taped his eyes open and raced in the Daytona 500 and a week later won at Richmond. Last August, Brad Keselowski broke his left ankle in a crash and four days later won at Pocono Raceway.
While NASCAR’s top three series have not had a fatality since the death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500; sadly, for racing this is not always the case. On October 16, 2011, Indy car driver Dan Wheldon was killed in a crash while racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Tragedy impacts the whole racing community and yet a week later NASCAR drivers strapped back into their cars. Carl Edwards puts it best when he says, “When you get in a racecar you don’t think about that stuff, at least I don’t. Everyone prepares for the worst. When you get out there to race, you just go race.”
Ernest Hemmingway once said, “Mountain Climbing, Bull Fighting, and Auto Racing are the only real sports…all others are just games.”
But for the race teams and the millions of fans that watch them, racing is more than just a sport. For them, racing is a way of life.