Happy Daytona Day!
The Superbowl of NASCAR
In most other sports (e.g., football, baseball, etc.), the season starts out slowly, builds up, and ends in a championship game, or series of championship games. NASCAR does the exact opposite. The Daytona 500 is the season-opening race, yet it is arguably the most important and prestigious race that is run all year. Without a doubt, it has the largest purse. For these reasons and more, it has been called “The Superbowl of Stock Car Racing.”
NASCAR and Bootlegging
Today, everybody knows that you’re not supposed to drink and drive. However, NASCAR actually got its start with the illegal whiskey trade. According to NASCAR lore, the good ol’ boys used to soup up their cars in order to outrun the law. Soon these same boys started racing against each other on the back roads and cow pastures. And the rest is history.
Racing on Daytona Beach
In the early days of Daytona, the track actually included a portion along the sandy beach. The “World’s Most Famous Beach” quickly became synonymous with racing. As you might imagine, there were difficulties using sand as a racing surface. Eventually the course was moved. The first Daytona 500 to be raced on the Daytona International Speedway was in 1959.
When that very first race was held on the brand new, state-of-the-art Daytona International Speedway in 1959, few people expected such an usual finish. As it turned out, Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp finished with identical times. In fact, they both headed over to the winner’s circle together. Petty was ultimately declared the winner based on a photo that revealed his victory by a margin of less than three feet. But this happened three days after the unofficial decision had given the win to Beauchamp. Talk about drama!
There was even more drama in 1979, the 21st annual Daytona 500. It was the first NASCAR event to be broadcast live nationally. As luck would have it, a snowstorm blanketed much of the East Coast, causing millions to tune in who normally would have been doing something else – anything else. Add to that a fistfight that broke out on the infield grass, after a crash that occurred during the final lap, and you have the stuff of legends. It put NASCAR front and center with a national audience for the first time in the history of the sport.
These are just two of the many stories that make the Daytona 500 “The Great American Race.” While NASCAR is still more prominent in the South than in the North, it has seen a recent rise in popularity. It's still not as popular as the NFL, but it’s not just for hillbillies any longer.
Daytona Day Promotion
Fox Sports coined the phrase, “Daytona Day,” as a promotional opportunity in 2016. It would seem that FOX is trying their “Happy Daytona Day” theme again in 2017, in an attempt to get more non-race fans interested in the race. The advertising strategy does nothing to actually educate people about the Daytona 500, or even differentiate it (a NASCAR race – National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) from other racing formats, such as the INDY 500 (Formula One – the highest class of single-seat auto facing).
If you go to the Daytona Day website, you will find “everything you need to throw the ultimate Daytona Day Party.” I’m no expert, but I know enough about the traditional NASCAR fan to realize that they will NOT be inspired to cook chocolate cake with bacon bourbon butterscotch sauce, or download a Daytona Day Bingo card. They are far more likely to drink beer, and pay the most attention to the crashes, as opposed to the actual racing.
The only thing I see that may interest traditional fans is the Daytona Pick 5 contest. All you do is pick the top five Daytona 500 finishers in the correct order to win $50,000. Now that sounds like fun.