We recently spent a week in northern Florida with Megan’s brothers. Megan’s oldest brother is a huge Nascar fan, specifically of the driver Danica Patrick. The impetus of this trip was to attend the Daytona 500 and have some time together as siblings.
The Daytona 500 is quite a production. There is no official count of attendees but estimates say 250,000! We parked in a huge field miles away and rode the school bus shuttle service to the track. We had seats between turn four and the front straight, which gave us a view of cars jockeying for position coming out of the corner, cars braking hard to enter the pits, and the hordes filling the stands on all sides. The Daytona 500 has been going on since 1959 in it’s current form. Before then, the “track” consisted of the highway, local avenues, and the beach. This year, 43 drivers competed in 200 laps, or 500 miles, averaging about 160mph. The Daytona 500 is unique because it is the first race of the season and the largest event for the season, unlike most sports where the largest event happens at the end of the season. Twenty million people watch this race on television!
I have to say it was more amusing than I expected. The cars whiz by at amazing speeds, often around 200mph! The noise and rush of wind with the pack’s passing is powerful. The crowd was generally enthusiastic, jovial, and fairly mild-mannered. The cars maneuvering into the pits while scrubbing 150mph of speed in the length of three football fields was exciting. Every type of junk food imaginable was available for purchase. Gaudy fan memorabilia was being bought as if it was in style (and according to the crowd, it was).
After the race, we waited in line for two hours to board the school buses that shuttled the masses back to our parked cars. Then we waited in the line of cars exiting the parking lot for quite a while. I lost track of time. Let’s just say, the race ended about 4:30pm and we didn’t eat dinner until after 8:30pm and that was still in the town of Daytona Beach! We appreciated that the crowd stayed relaxed and in good spirits during the long waits. We also appreciated having packed snack food.
In addition to the race, we got a chance to explore some other attractions. Saint Augustine is celebrating it’s 450th anniversary this year, making it the oldest continuously-inhabited European-established settlement in the USA. We walked through the small defensive fort the Spanish built when they first came. While hiking at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, we saw dozens of bird species, reams of Spanish Moss, swampy trails left from belly-dragging alligators, and droppings from wild bison. We walked the beach and stuck our feet in the ocean, despite it feeling quite cold out. On a tour of an Anheuser-Busch Brewery, we became mesmerized by the miles of whirring conveyer belts holding boxes, bottles, and cans. A lively docent tour in the quirky Amelia Island History Museum taught us a new angle on the area’s history. Best of all, we had lots of time together for telling stories and laughter.
You can see more pictures from this trip if you keep scrolling or go to the gallery here.