February 1, 2015 (Only 19 days to Austin Theriault’s Daytona Debut)
Daytona From a Spectator’s Point-of-View
With the Daytona Speedweeks events looming on the motorsports horizon I thought it would be timely to get reactions from a few County folks’ who have experienced one of the most famous racetracks in the world. First let me share my three experiences at the track.
In the spring of 1973 several members of my fraternity, Alpha Gamma Rho at the University of Maine at Orono, decided we were going to do “Spring Break” in Florida. Six of my fraternity brothers and I ponied up enough money to take two cars, Tom Madden’s 1967 VW Beetle with relatively low mileage and Bruce Libby’s 1964 Ford Falcon nicknamed “Flash” with many miles on the odometer.
We travelled together from Orono until reaching the first Richmond, Virginia exit on I-95. Suddenly the VW I was riding in lost power just before the exit. We got a push from Libby’s Falcon and pulled into the first garage we came to , Peter Abbott’s Exxon.
Mr. Abbott exhibited extraordinary Southern hospitality allowing us to use a bay with lift and tools to disassemble the engine at no charge. I was doing the work. I had never had a VW engine apart in my life yet necessity became my incentive in this hands-on learning experience.
Long story short, we had to go into the hills of Virginia to a place that reminded us of scenes from the movie “Deliverance” where we picked up a rebuilt power plant for $600. The four brothers in Libby’s Ford figured there was not much more that they could do for us so we said our good-byes from Richmond. They headed south on Saturday morning.
I had never been to the Daytona Speedway. My ideas of how the track looked were formed by pictures from Hot Rod Magazine or Stock Car Racing Magazine. When deciding how we would know which campground the guys in “Flash” would be staying in, I boldly suggested put a note at the base of the leg of the Daytona International Speedway sign at the track. What they did not know was that I had no clue if there was such a sign and where such a sign would be located.
After installing the “Deliverance”engine on Sunday morning, we beat foot out of Richmond staying ahead of a weather front that included tornado warnings. We made our way south in wind-swept rain and stopped every few hours to add a quart of oil to our “rebuilt” engine.
My first view of the fabled track was in the early hours of Monday morning looking through bleary eyes for a sign at the track. We drove to the first large Daytona International Speedway sign in the huge parking lot. I got out of the VW and went to the base of one of the legs of the sign where lo-and-behold was a piece of paper with the campground where the four guys in “Flash” the Ford Falcon were staying. What a reunion we had when we got there.
That trip to Daytona did not include any tourist activity. When my wife and I took our Florida honeymoon in February 1977 we arrived at the track on Monday after the Daytona 500. Some of the trash from the previous day had not been picked up, however, track tours were available so my wife and I were able to see the track that I had only dreamed about all those years.
Cale Yarborough in a Chevy won the 1977 race the day before beating Benny Parsons, the only other driver on the lead lap. My hero Richard Petty blew his engine on lap 90. Needless to say there were no signs of any race cars the day after the big race. I went over to Smokey’s Garage and stopped in to see Smokey. I walked up to the parts desk at the most famous garage in NASCAR like I knew what I was doing and asked to talk to Smokey. Smokey was not there he was taking time off after the 500.
Little did I know that I would get to meet him at the Brickyard 400 at Indy in 1999 and once again in 2003 at Indy. What a privilege to meet him and talk racing for a few minutes.
My last and next visit to the Speedway was in 2011 in March at the beginning of the motocross races. Once again I got the bus tour and a trip through Daytona USA where Trevor Bayne’s #21 Woods Brothers Ford was on display.
Kevin Grass of Mars Hill after several laps around Daytona International Speedway in 2009. Grass experienced the speed of Daytona as a passenger in a Richard Petty Driving Experience race car. Photo courtesy Kevin Grass
Kevin Grass at Daytona
I talked to several people about their Daytona experiences as spectators. Kevin Grass, the former Agriculture Educator/FFA Advisor and Principal of Central Aroostook High School in Mars Hill related several of his experiences at the Speedway. He has attended the track over a dozen times including a several lap ride-along with the Richard Petty Driving Experience.
Grass, now a full-time potato farmer, explained that in 2009 he shelled out the cash to ride along with an experienced Petty Driving Experience driver on the actual track but not on a race weekend.
He explained that they accelerated from 0 to 140 miles per hour from the pit lane into turn one. The next lap they ran 185 mph in the high groove only feet from the wall. They tried the low line and ran the middle of the track. Grass said he felt the middle lane provided the most stable place to run.
The g’s on the 33 1/2 degree banks pressed them into the turns and loosened his belts under the force of the turns. He said the sensation was such that he felt a knot in his stomach. Grass said, ” I cannot imagine what it must be like to have 42 of your ‘best friends’ jostling for your position, experiencing g-loading, the noise, smells and danger during the race! We were out there one at a time.”
Grass has figured several alternative ways to get to the track on race-day to avoid some of the traffic. He knows where to park his vehicle to get in and out of the track rapidly as possible keeping in mind that all this is relative.
One year however he was proceeding to the track early in the morning when he traffic came to a complete stop, I believe it was due to an accident on the off lane or on the interstate. I am not sure. Grass, however, had not counted on the long delay having drank two cups of coffee before striking out on his adventure that morning.
The size of his bladder was overwhelmed by the extended stay on the interstate. Dilemma big time for the County man. Where do you go to urinate when you are in the middle of stalled traffic on the interstate in Florida. A quick look around the SUV yielded no containers for discrete relief for the overfilled bladder.
Desperate, Grass got out of the vehicle and went up to a fellow traffic stranded traveller’s RV. He knocked on the door and heard a “come in” where he quickly explained his situation and was allowed to utilize the facilities in the RV. Quick friendships were established as they waited out the log jam.
Grass, a Tony Stewart fan, will not be at this year’s Daytona 500. He does not rule out future attendance at the track.
Troy and Julie at Daytona 2014
Julie Chamberlain and Troy Haney began their Speedweeks 2014 adventures on Tuesday February 14, 2014 when they arrived at the 2 1/2 mile track. They went to every event that week including the Daytona 500. The tornado warnings drove them away from the track. They viewed the end of the race from their room in Orlando as it finished late on that Sunday night.
Julie and Troy both agreed that the UNOH Battle on the Beach races in turn two were their favorite events. The Super Late Models and Modifieds utilized the beginning of the back stretch for their race. The fact that they could drive into the infield area and watch cars and drivers many who came from the New England area making it an enjoyable race.
Julie’s first impression of the track was,” It was huge, had a lot of walking, and I haven’t ridden a bus so much since I went to school. I stood at the base of the high banks and saw the pitch. It was like a wall. They were very high banks!”
Chamberlain, a Matt Kenseth fan, said, “I also enjoyed the hospitality tents, the atmosphere, the sponsors, and the larger than life feeling. I would go back.”
The trip to the 2014 races was new to Spud Speedway tack owner Troy Haney, however, it was not his first time at Daytona International. He had done the Daytona bus tour and visited Daytona USA Museum in previous trips to the area.
“I am was impressed by the size and enormity of Daytona when I first saw the track,” said Haney. “I was caught up with the fact that so many historic events had occurred at Daytona. It is a cool place. The speed is incredible.”
Haney a long-time Kevin Harvick fan was pleased that fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Junior won the 500 even though Haney and Chamberlain were no longer at the track to see the end of the race. You may recall the extreme weather, tornado warnings and torrential rainfall delayed the restart until late Sunday evening. Because of a business commitment early Monday morning they could not hang around the track.
Jason Griffeth’s Thoughts of Daytona
“A group of us rented an RV the first year somewhere in Connecticut and drove to Daytona”, said Griffeth. “We smartened up and flew into Jacksonville the next year where we rented an RV.
“In those years, 2006 and 2007, we went to be part of the party scene in the infield at Daytona. We parked the RV on Tuesday and left the track on Monday. My favorite event was the two Gatorade 125’s on Thursday.”
“We had spent much of the time at the Tiki Lounge at the Lake Lloyd dock in the infield. We did not have the special passes to be there but they must have thought we belonged since we were allowed to hang around the during those 125s. If I go back again my desire is to see the races not be part of that scene.”
Griffeth, who like Kevin Grass is a Tony Stewart fan, hopes the veteran driver can win the Great American race. He will not be at this year’s race.
As a groundskeeper he also has a special interest in the manicured turf and has met the head of grounds for Daytona. After his career in the Major Leagues Griffeth said he would like to run the grounds operation at some major racetrack.
My Brother-in-Law Darrel Smith and Daytona
Each year since my brother-in-law Darrel Smith was murdered February 6, 2008 at his sawmill in Woodland, Maine, I wear the hat on the day of the Daytona 500 in memory of him. His death is one of the 120 unsolved murders in Maine.
I asked Darrel’s wife, Barb, to remind me of their trip to the Great American Race February 15, 2004. “Darrel was not a fan of any sport,” she said. “We went as guests of Audrey and Dick Larson who had a condo in Daytona. They invited us and Darrel reluctantly paid for the tickets.”
“Our seats were near turn one. We went to see the exhibits the day before the race. On race day security was tight since President Bush was there for the race. We saw the tail of Air Force One behind the backstretch on Daytona Airport. We were able to see the President take off before the end of the race. We have a framed picture of that.”
“There was a large crowd, unbelievably loud. It was cold and us Northerners were not equipped for such a cold day. Fortunately the Larsons had warm clothing for us. It was so cold that the flowers were covered to protect against frost.”
” Darrel was disappointed when he realized that the ‘bathing beauties’ of Florida were covered in multiple layers of warm clothes.”
I cannot close this episode without mentioning during this week when family remembers Darrel Smith that anyone with information about this case needs to present that information to the authorities so the family might have closure into the brutal murder of their husband, brother, and son.
Spud Speedway’s Summer Season Kart Racers Meeting
Kart racers and potential kart racers are urged to attend a meeting at Haney Building Specialties on the Van Buren road in Caribou February 7, 2015 at 10:30 am. The rules, schedule, and a variety of topics will be discussed.
Kart racing at the Caribou track will be the only regular race events for the 2015 season. Racers will utilize the 1/5 mile specially built track for all Summer Season Events. For more information contact Troy Haney at 207.227.0897.
Let’s go racing
Soli Deo Gloria