Daytona 500 Fast Facts: Let's Go Racing Boys!

Kara MartinSenior Analyst IFebruary 15, 2009

Today kicks off NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series with the 51st running of the Daytona 500 and I could not be happier!

I feel like a kid in a candy store surrounded by all of my favorite treats! A Dale Jr. swizzle stick, my Tony Stewart wax lips, Kevin Harvick Pez Dispenser and a bag of Labonte Brother's Texas Pecan Pralines. Heck, I'm so giddy I might even indulge in some Kyle Busch peanut M&M's!

The Daytona 500 is known as "The Great American Race." It is the biggest, most prestigious race in the United States. The one that we eagerly anticipate and tune into annually. For NASCAR fans, it is our own personal Superbowl.

Although the Daytona 500 is reknowned as the first race of the season, this traditon was not established until 1982.

The Daytona 500 is like a well executed action movie. The driver's make up a star studded cast and the Speedway is the director who visualizes the script, controls the film's artistic and dramatic aspects, and guides the crew and drivers in the fulfillment of it's vision.

Like any good director, the Daytona International Speedway is the ultimate storyteller. It provides a general plot-line, but allows for it's "actors" to improvise their own dialogue, creating 50 years of unforgettable scripts.

The track is 2.5 miles in length, 200 laps make up the 500 miles. The grandstands can accommodate up to 168,000 fans. The infield plays host to million-dollar motorhomes neighboring family-sized tents and pop-up campers. It is a place where VIPs and Average Joes come together for the love of American speed.

The first race was run on February 22, 1959. The inaugural race was won by Lee Petty, defeating Johnny Beauchamp in a highly unusual manner. Petty and Beauchamp were lapping Joe Weatherly at the finish, when officials initially called Beauchamp the winner as the three cars crossed the line. After reviewing photographs and film of the finish for three days, the call was reversed, and Petty was awarded the win.

A field of exactly 43 drivers have taken the green flag since 1998, but in the early days of Daytona the field was often much larger. 68 cars took the field in 1960, the largest in Daytona 500 history.

The fastest Daytona 500 took place in 1980, with an average speed of 177.603 MPH. In 1987 Bill Elliott clocked in a record 210.34 MPH, the fastest pole speed ever. The restrictor plate (a device installed at the intake of an engine to limit it's power) was implemented the following year and has been used ever since. The fastest qualifying time recorded with a restrictor plate was 196.006 mph by Ken Schrader in 1989.

The winner of the Daytona 500 is presented with the Harley J. Earl Trophy in Victory Lane. The permanent trophy is housed at the Daytona 500 Experience, a museum and gallery adjacent to the Daytona International Speedway along with the driver's car, displayed in race-winning condition for one year.

The Harley J. Earl Trophy is named after influential automobile designer Harley Earl, who served as the second commissioner of NASCAR. He has been known as the so-called "Father of the Corvette" and designer of the Firebird I prototype that adorns the trophy.

The trophy stands about four feet tall, and five feet wide, and is in the same triangluar "tri-oval" shape of the Daytona International Speedway.

Which driver will raise that trophy high above their head in Victory Lane today? After three long months of off-season predictions, we are about to find out!

In just a few hours our gentlemen will start their engines and Daytona will jump start the promise of an exciting 2009 season. So reach up and pull those belts tight one more time!

Let's go racing boys!