It may be snowing in Maine but turfgrass is growing for Speedweeks in Daytona

Episode 292

December 2, 2019

Which of these three Daytona International Speedway (DIS) Tri-oval turf designs was the fan favorite for Speedweeks 2020? We will have to stay tuned as Caribou native and Grounds Supervisor at Daytona, Jason Griffeth and crew, finish planting the design. (Daytona International Speedway drawing)

Remix of “Let it Snow”

In 1956 Dean Martin rocketed to the top of pop music charts with his rendition of “Let it Snow, Let It Snow, Let it Snow”. Written in 1945 by Sammy Cahn and Julie Styne in California during the hottest day of the year,  Martin was amused by the irony of the situation.

I am currently enveloped by nearly two feet of the white stuff, not amusing if you are a “Choose and Cut” Christmas tree farmer. While preparing to write about the beginnings of DIS Grounds Supervisor Jason Griffeth’s overseeding project, I thought I might change the wording of the song that helped make Dean Martin famous.

Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire in the furnace is so delightful
And since I have no race to go
Please do not “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”

Meet Jason Griffeth

Daytona International Speedway Grounds Supervisor Jason Griffeth in the Fanzone area of DIS in 2018. (DIS photo)

Jason Griffeth is a Class of 2000 Caribou High School graduate and has his four-year degree in Soil Science from UMass Amherst and a two-year degree in Turfgrass Management from UMass Stockbridge which is an integral part of the UMass campus.

Griffeth grew up on the family potato farm in Woodland, Maine where his work ethic was developed. As a young man in grade school he assumed responsibility for some jobs on the farm that grown men typically perform. His father, Robert, however knew he could rely on his son to get it done and get it done correctly.

One of Griffeth’s first non-farm “jobs” was earning community service hours required for high school graduation at the Caribou Country Club under the watchful eye of golf course superintendent Bill McGary. His job performance led him to being offered a job at the local country club.

I had the privilege of having Griffeth in my Horticulture class at Caribou Tech Center for a couple of years. He was an active member of the Caribou FFA (the student organization for agriculture education). I remember he finished second in the Landscape Contest at the State FFA Convention at the University of Maine at Orono getting beat by a member of the United Technology Center in Bangor. I think that disappointed him somewhat.

While at UMass Amherst, he got his two-year degree in Turfgrass Management and as mentioned earlier his four-year degree in Soil Science. Part of the program was involvement in an internship program.

With the help of UMass Extension Educator,  Mary Owen, Griffeth established contact with Fenway Park Head of Grounds, Dave Mellor. Griffeth said he wanted to work in a sports stadium and at the top of his list was Fenway Park with the Boston Red Sox.

Dave Mellor had just began as the Head of Grounds at Fenway coming over from the Milwaukee Brewers. Griffeth said, “I started calling the new Director of Grounds at Fenway Park, Dave Mellor, about the possibility of an internship at the park. I was so persistent about calling Dave that he took me on as an intern in 2001 (Griffeth was 18).”

Jason Griffeth at Fenway Park in 2006 when he lead an educational tour for the New England Agriculture Teachers. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Griffeth eventually was named Mellor’s assistant and worked with him 14.5 years until he saw the job opening at Daytona International Speedway. What most folks do not know about this County man is that he is a racing fan more so than a stick-and-ball fan.

He tells about his short-lived baseball career this way, ” I was cut from my Babe Ruth team (13-15 years old)  but now have three World series rings!” This was his chance to work at another iconic venue and witness some world-class racing first hand.

After receiving the blessings of his good friend/boss/ mentor/ and confidant Dave Mellor, Griffeth made the move to Daytona in 2016 replacing the retiring Sam Newpher who had been at DIS for 14.5 years after being the Atlanta Braves Groundskeeper.

Almost immediately he began the process of planting light and dark varieties of perennial and annual ryegrass which produce the ready for television patterns on what may be some of the most famous turf in motorsports.

2019 Pattern

Griffeth and his five person crew spent a couple days during Thanksgiving week laying out and planting the two types of turfgrass seeds which will yield the light and dark patterns of the winning design from above graphic. The following press release from the public relations staff explains the process:

“The NASCAR champions for the 2019 season have been crowned and the grounds crew at Daytona International Speedway, in collaboration with Missouri Turf, is turning the page and preparing for the new season and the 2020 DAYTONA 500 on Sunday, Feb. 16.

On Monday (November 25), the process began of planting the grass that will create another eye-catching design in the famed tri-oval for DAYTONA Speedweeks Presented By AdventHealth, which is highlighted by the 62nd annual DAYTONA 500 NASCAR Cup Series season opener on Sunday, Feb. 16.

Jason Griffeth directs his tractor and overseeder along a predetermined path with specific seed which yield a portion of the 2020 Speedweeks design. (DIS photo)

The crew of five plants two different types of grass in the tri-oval – perennial rye (dark grass) and annual rye (light grass) – on the most visible piece of real estate at Daytona International Speedway. This process creates the design that fans and television viewers come to expect in February when watching the races at the “World Center of Racing.”