When Daytona International Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway were constructed in time for their first races in 1959 and 1999, respectively, lakes were formed as well.
Soil was excavated from both infields so the high banks of the oval racetracks—DIS with a 2.5-mile tri-oval and HMS with a Homestead 1.5-mile oval—could be piled and formed.
The infield lakes have been stocked with bass over the years, making for prime fishing territory within the paved racing configuration.
In 2002, Darrell Gwynn, a champion NHRA dragster driver who suffered spinal cord injury in a crash, formed with wife Lisa the Darrel Gwynn Foundation. The mission of the organization was to seek aid and give support to people with paralysis and help prevent spinal cord injuries.
Since then, Gwynn has managed “Hot Rods and Reels” fishing tournaments in the lakes at DIS and HMS. NASCAR drivers donate their time to fish with contributors so that disabled children can get expensive mechanized wheelchairs costing $25,000 and more.
Drivers like Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Martin Truex Jr., David Ragan and more show up routinely to donate their time for the great cause and have fun during two of NASCAR’s biggest races.
So while drivers prepare for the “Great American Race,” the Daytona 500, at the “World Center of Racing” at DIS, they sacrifice about two hours one morning. They do the same at HMS during Ford Championship Weekend. But their time might be great moments spent before the intensity of the race weekend ratchets up.
This reporter took one question to drivers attending the HMS Hot Rods and Reels tournament, posing hopefully an upbeat request: Is fishing like wishing?
Stewart donates his time at nearly every tournament and was eager to share his words, too.
“Wishing and fishing. Absolutely,” Stewart said. “You’re always wishing the fish are going to jump on your hook. Yeah. There's a lot of similarities there.”
When asked to comment on the reality that he does this tournament frequently, Stewart explained his loyalty. He also showed up using a cane, because he is recovering from recent crash injuries.
“This is something I'm pretty passionate about,” Stewart said. “Darrell's got an infectious personality and his dedication to give these kids proper wheelchairs, that's going to increase their quality of life.”
Stewart continued about resolve.
“When you make a commitment like Darrel has, it's not always easy to get guys like ourselves to come and be as committed to what he is doing as well,” He said. “This is something we always look forward to no matter what your scenario is this weekend.”
Newman also shared his thoughts.
“Today it was,” Newman said. “I didn't catch anything. Our boat caught one fish. That's why they call it fishing and not hooking. Just proud to be a part of Darrell Gwynn's Foundation, put a smile on somebody's face, giving them mobility they used to have.”
Ty Dillon had a good take on the question.
“I think you're wishing the whole time when you're fishing,” Dillon said. “For sure to get a big fish. Just like a lot of life, sometimes wishes come true, sometimes they don't. That's a little bit about how fishing is.”
Grandfather to Ty Dillon, team owner Richard Childress added his thoughts as well.
“Yeah, I was wishin’ for fishin’ today, and we didn't catch any,” Childress said. “But it's for a good cause, and it's a big deal to be here.”
David Ragan commented on their less-than-great results on the water.
“Yes, I did a lot of wishing today,” Ragan said. “Wishing we caught something. It's great to come and support Darrell and his foundation. Even though we didn't catch anything, we still had a good time. Like racing, a bad day at fishing is better than any day at work.”
Biffle was smiling as he answered.
“Oh yeah. Oh yeah. All of us like catching, not fishing,” Biffle said. “Bad day on water is better than any day on land. So we caught a couple fish, and we had a lot of fun this morning.”
Veteran Kenny Schrader knows plenty about racing.
“I don't anything about fishing,” Schrader said. “But I have fun coming to this deal.”
Jeff Hammond stepped away from his TV role to hop on one of the many boats.
“No matter how big the ones are you get, you never get what you wished for,” Hammond said. ”The thing is to at least get something. The competition is always fierce out here. You want to have a fish in your bag when you get out of the boat.”
Max Papis expressed his take on the difficulty of fishing.
“Fishing is anything like wishing?” Papis inquired. “No, because they're not going to come up.”
Joe Nemechek saw it differently.
“Fishing is just like wishing,” Nemechek said. “You're waiting for it to happen.”
Joey Coulter defined the importance of the effect of the charity event on drivers.
“This deal with Darrell Gwynn Foundation is awesome,” Coulter said. “It's the end of the year, we are winding down. Some guys had a good year. Some guys had a bad year. Once you're out there fishing, everybody just pushes it under the rug and don't worry.”
The next Darrell Gwynn Foundation Hot Rods and Reels tournament will launch boats on Lake Lloyd in the infield at DIS before the Daytona 500 on Feb. 21 from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
The upbeat event combines a relaxing pastime with celebrity drivers and an important charity that benefits disabled children.
Not everyone catches fish, but big wishes become reality.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.