Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Daytona 500

Daytona 500. Our view of the start-finish line.My father and I went to the Daytona 500 on Sunday. Dad bought the rather pricey tickets from a scalper a couple hours before the race, and didn't even let me chip in, since this was a birthday present for me.

For those of you who live in caves, the Daytona 500 is the kick-off of the NASCAR racing season. It's also the most-hyped, biggest event of the NASCAR season, which makes it's placement at the beginning a little odd, but there you have it.

Watching the race

Our seats weren't as good as Dad is used to, but I really enjoyed the race, especially since my two favorite drivers were battling for the lead for a good portion of the race. Which two? Well, most NASCAR fans wouldn't normally group these two guys together, but my favorites are Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon, in that order. After those guys, I guess I root for the crowd favorite, Dale Jr., then the "other Dale," Dale Jarrett, after him.

If you saw the race (and who didn't?), then you already know that Stewart led most of the race, but was overtaken near the end by Gordon. In fact, Stewart led for a very impressive 107 laps. If it weren't for two yellow flag delays near the end of the race, he most likely would have cruised to victory lane.

Dale Jr. made a very exciting run in the final 20 laps or so, seemingly moving up in position one or two spots on every lap. The crowd was going crazy, watching him maneuver past one car after another. Kurt Busch was moving up to challenge for the lead too, but that's not who the crowd was rooting for. Everyone turned their attention to the leader board for a few seconds each time the front of the pack crossed the start/finish line, to see where Dale Jr. was listed. Amazingly, he made it all the way up through about 15 positions in the final laps, to the take lead around lap 195, but relinquished the lead to Gordon on lap 198, after a wreck caused a re-start, and finished in third place.

Two wrecks in the final few laps kept the pack close, but on the final two laps, nobody could pass Jeff Gordon, as is usually the case when he gets out in front. He took the Daytona 500 checkered flag for the third time in his career.

Barger tradition

Going to the Daytona 500 is a bit of a Barger tradition. My parents took me to the Daytona 500 to celebrate my birthday a couple times when I was a wee tyke. Since then, we've gone a few more times over the years. The NASCAR folks have been nice enough to keep the race on or about my birthday all this time.

In those years (the 1970s), tickets were relatively cheap, good seats were easy to find, the stands had plenty of room left for everyone to spread out, and Richard Petty ("The King" of NASCAR Racing) seemed to win every year. Back then, the race wasn't even televised in its entirety (CBS was the first to do this in 1979).

Big-time racing

These days, tickets cost a minimum of about $100 if you buy early, and at least $200 if you wait until the day of the race (and then they're only available from scalpers, due to the early sell-outs). The stands are packed with more than 168,000 fans (the largest in all of motorsports), mostly wearing red to support crowd favorite Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He and a handful of other drivers, like Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, are annual contenders for the Daytona 500 victory. And, since 1995, television ratings for the Daytona 500 have been the highest for any auto race of the year -- with more than 25 million viewers this year.

View my photos from the Daytona 500