I will admit that I am a NASCAR fan. It's more casual these days than it was in the late '90s and early 2000s. Back then, I had a Dale Jarrett '88' sticker on my red Ford F-150 pickup and a list of radio stations that carried the race in my toolbox for the Sundays I could not watch live.
These days I watch the big races, especially the night races and the local races at Dover and Pocono. And I try not to miss Daytona. The first race I ever watched was CBS Sports first flag-to-flag coverage of a NASCAR event, the 1979 Daytona 500. I was in my grandfather's living room in Brookhaven, snow piling up outside with not much else on TV. We watched the rednecks driving around the giant oval in Florida and as the race ended, the two leaders crashed out and got into a fistfight! All their friends got into it with them! All on national TV!
It would be a few more years before I watched regularly again, but I have had some pretty good memories of watching the Daytona 500. My favorite was in 1993, when NASCAR legend Ned Jarrett, then a broadcaster, got to call his son Dale Jarrett home to the checkered flag. My heart was in my throat and I wasn't even a father yet!
In 1996, I visited Daytona and I was blown away by the sheer vastness of the engineering marvel the place really is. The three story high, steeply banked turns with hundreds of thousands of seats around them were pretty exciting even without 40 some cars flying into the turns at 200 miles an hour.
So I was pretty bummed when, with me sick and immobile on the couch, weather delayed the race until Monday. Then it was delayed again until night time and I was pretty happy I would get to watch. So we were going to get the first-ever Monday Night Daytona 500. All that was weird enough. Then the race started.
And it was a pretty normal race for a while. Big wreck on lap 2 took out Danica and some fan favorites. Pit stops, commercials, cars running real close to each other in big packs, more commercials. I was fading in and out of sleep.
And then all of a sudden there was a GIANT FIREBALL on the screen. One of the safety trucks seemed to have exploded. How is that possible?
What happened was that some idiot put a bunch of FUEL TRUCKS towing JET ENGINES on the track at the same time as drivers going 200 miles an hour. All this to blow debris off the track. Umm guys? Have you not heard of vacuums? Wasn't there anything more dangerous to clean the track with? Maybe something plutonium-powered?
Jesus Christ, who thought of this jerry-rig? Take a military surplus jet engine and tow it behind a truck filled with JET FUEL??? 'Hey Jethro, run on down to the army-navy store and grab us some jet engines so we can get the track cleaned off in a hurry. An' get some a' that duck tape so we can get the engine really tight on the truck!'
Anyway, I went to bed as they were trying to put the fire out, but I woke up to the coverage on every new outlet this morning. Apparently it was a pretty good race aside from the giant fire and no one was hurt. It will be a memorable race, but not one of the top 10 Daytona moments in my book.
Oh and Matt Kenseth eventually won the race.