I have attended the Daytona 500 every year since 2001; however, over the span of the last 20+ years the scope of my contribution has changed drastically.
In 2001, I was a wet-behind-the-ears 23-year-old with 11 months of experience working at NASCAR’s corporate office in Daytona Beach, Florida. I was responsible for ensuring that all of the race cars had their contingency stickers on the front fender and the drivers were all present at driver introductions as well as the most important task of bringing hats to victory lane. It is safe to assume that Michael Waltrip would still have won the race if I wouldn’t have shown up to work that day.
Fast forward to this year for the 65th running of the Daytona 500. I am no longer responsible for hats or stickers and am quite honestly still not a crucial contributor to the running of the race—but proudly involved in the sights and sounds of the day.
Every Daytona 500 is special, but this year there were a couple moments that I was a part of that you might enjoy learning more about.
Prior to the start of every race, NASCAR holds a drivers’ meeting where the track president welcomes everyone to the event, dignitaries are introduced, and drivers are briefed on the rules of the race. This event is largely ceremonial but is something special for everyone in attendance.
We hold this meeting just moments before the drivers are introduced on stage; therefore, there was an opportunity to walk the drivers, dignitaries, and celebrities in attendance down a red carpet in front of thousands of fans who were waiting to catch a glimpse of their favorite athlete.
We took the drivers out a side door from the drivers’ meeting and walked straight through one of the busiest places on the property led by the Bethune-Cookman marching band. The energy was incredible as everyone in attendance didn’t anticipate the pomp and circumstance as well as the proximity they were able to get to this elite class of drivers.
Side note: Two weeks before the race, my boss asked me to put together a video that would be played in the drivers’ meeting. I am grateful for the team that helped create this video and for NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett for agreeing to provide a voice over for what became a special part of the day for me.
In honor of the 75th anniversary, NASCAR developed a brand spot that highlighted the history. The hero vehicle was a flat black NASCAR 75th branded car that revealed itself numerous times throughout the 60-second commercial. Following this spot being played for the first time on FOX and live in the venue, we had an identical vehicle staged at the Daytona International Speedway that was driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon as he led the field for the initial pace laps. What didn’t show up on camera is that we test drove this special car the day before the race to ensure that everything worked properly—and also realized that the car had a mechanical issue, so we needed to develop a Plan B. After some quick thinking by the team, we pulled a Chevy Camaro ZL1 from Chevy’s display and sent it to a local decal shop to get wrapped. The Camaro was delivered to the front stretch 30 minutes before the gates opened and worked flawlessly as Gordon led the field in the 65th running of the Daytona 500.
Command to Start Engines
2023 was NASCAR’s 75th anniversary so it was extremely important that we highlighted that milestone in a special way. One of the ways that we did this was by asking previous Daytona 500 Champions who were also NASCAR Cup Series Champions to give the command to start the race. There were nine NASCAR legends that qualified for this honor and who agreed to take the trip to Daytona—with three of them competing in the race.
We worked closely with NASCAR competition to pad the time between the command to start engines and the cars rolling off the grid to enable the three current drivers to relocate from the command platform to getting buckled into their cars. When it was all said and done, this element came off flawlessly and it gave me goosebumps as my NASCAR heroes Richard Petty and Bill Elliott said those famous words while standing next to NASCAR royalty like Jimmie Johnson and Bobby Allison.
There are countless other stories that I could share about this very special day, but you are going to have to invite me over for a bourbon and a cigar to hear more.
Until next year’s Daytona 500,