An Ode to the Daytona International Speedway
She stands on the stretch of land between Interstate 95 and the notorious Daytona Beach.
She emanates beauty, strength, power, and glory.
Dreams have both been made and broken on her high banks, and her spectators, the loyal followers and patrons, have witnessed history and heartbreak.
Since 1959, they have come to this 2.5-mile oval in awe and in no need to contradict her. She is a piece of sacred American land, joining the company of The Alamo, Gettysburg, The White House, and even Elvis' Graceland.
She is important, she is rich, big, and beautiful, she is the attention getter that is the Daytona International Speedway, and she is my home away from home.
They call her the "World Center of Racing," NASCAR auto racing. She was born in 1959 when NASCAR founder Bill France had a vision of her and knew that she was the next great sports venue.
But before his vision could become a reality, NASCAR's grandest stage was the Daytona Beach course, just down the road from where she would be built.
But soon enough, from the dirt of what became a man-made lake that sits in the middle of her, and straight from the ground she arose, all 480 acres of her.
She became Speedway Boulevard's eye catching and most glorious structure. It is easy to spot her from all directions miles away.
The sun beams brightly on her long sweeping straightaways, 3,800 in the front and 3,000 in the back, during the daytime. Over a thousand lights illuminate her distinctive steep banked corners of 31 degrees. She is one of a kind, a magnificent facility.
Many have come to walk along her green grass and sit among her multi-colored grandstands.
They have come to get an up close and personal view of their heroes and their powerful machines, thanks to her state of the art garage area and newly expanded fan zone.
They have come from near, the Floridians proud of their home coliseum. They have come from far, be it half way around the world or half way across the country.
From all along the coast, they have all come with their excitement and expectations. They make the trip of a lifetime; they make the trip with hopes of leaving happier and satisfied.
They come for not just a couple of hours like other sporting events, but for days and even weeks.
She becomes their home away from home, as they set up camp on her infield with motor homes and tents, which are decorated with decals, flags and everything in-between, everything that shows their NASCAR spirit.
It's a spirit that has been carried over to the unwritten dress code when attending any of her events as a way to show where loyalties lie.
She is not a place where designer clothes are worn, only solid colors, because she is a place where they are happy to look like race cars.
And when they are not watching those cars battling her, they water ski, swim, and fish on her 29-acre Lake Lloyd. However, it is not an intrusion on her space, it is what she likes, it is what she wants, and it is why she was born.
I, too, have walked through her gates on many occasions. I have stood in amazement at her size, which appears to reach the stars. She easily made me feel humble, grateful and happy all at once.
I have come and observed her when she is quiet, the calm before the storm, when there is not a car, truck, crewman, or other fan in site.
It is the time when she sits undisturbed under a blanket of lights. But I have also come and observed her at her best, in the heat of the battle.
It is because of the impending battle of NASCAR's greatest drivers that others and I become drawn to her, like a moth to a flame.
Drawn to the history of the events that she hosts: the first race of the year which is NASCAR's biggest event and most important, plus it also pays the most.
During the months of February and July, she becomes the center of the NASCAR world as well as the second largest city in Florida.
Drawn to the excitement she produces by having 43 cars going 190 mph just inches from each other and her white walls that will ruin the drivers day with one touch.
Drawn to the accidents that may happen at any time she decides to strike out at an unsuspecting, the accidents that make us hold our breaths.
Drawn to her wonderful weather, the sun/advertisement plane filled days and starry firework-filled nights.
She is the only place where gasoline and burnt rubber are welcome smells. When the wind blows she gives a picture perfect shot of the giant American flag flying on her infield and of the checkered flag that will wave for the last driver standing.
I have spent the last eight years, four in person, watching her welcome that driver into the hallowed ground of her victory lane.
Richard Petty met with her a record seven times during February and she broke Dale Earnhardt's heart for 19 straight years. Only a special few have danced with her through the years, and for some of them it has made not only their career but their life.
I've stood among the thousands of others in her grandstand and asked her to welcome our favorite drivers into the winner's circle.
I have journeyed through the tunnel under turn three to her infield and have felt like I was being swallowed whole.
I must have appeared like I was an ant trying to navigate my way through her giant world filled with maze after maze consisting of towers and garages.
But it was all a comforting sight that reminded me the battle would commence soon, and I was safe here and I was home.
Now the clock has begun to turn in anticipation of my return home. The excitement is building and everyone is getting anxious about what's in store for this new year of racing.
Anxious about what she, the Daytona International Speedway, has in store for both the fans and the drivers. Right now she sits empty and quiet, however the sound of car engines are approaching from the distance.
Her walls are getting a fresh coat of paint and the grass is being groomed for the "Great American Race." She is going to make sure it lives up to the hype: it will be important, rich, big and beautiful and she will make it a grand homecoming for me.
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