I knew when I moved out of Central Florida after 18 years, This would be the the week that I would miss the most. From the time you pull off of I95 onto US 92, which is International Speedway Boulevard, you enter the world which is the magic of Daytona. As you drive by the Old Speedway with your window down, you can hear the unmistakable sound of 800 horsepower cars coming off turn four, heading for the tri-oval.
There’s noting like it. I’ve been to races at other venues around NASCAR, but none that ever matched the excitement that comes with the first official week of NASCAR activity at Daytona. I know the drivers and especially crew members need home time with their families, but for us race fans, the off season is too long.
It was called The Busch Clash for many years, but in the 90’s became the Bud Shootout. The official name this year has been changed to The Sprint Unlimited. Whatever you want to call it, it has always been the first official race of the season, and our first opportunity to see drivers who have moved to new teams during the Silly Season in their new rides, and everyone’s new paint scheme. All of the cars are pretty, pristine, and clean. A condition that is sure to change three laps into the race.
Back in the heyday, locals who couldn’t afford to attend the big events, could either win a couple of tickets to the Shootout in a lottery at their watering hole, or pick them up for $28.00 at the local Winn Dixie supermarket. Winn Dixie was a huge racing sponsor in the 90’s, and sponsored Mark Martin in the Busch Series(now Nationwide). Everyone you knew, went to the Bud Shootout.
The race for many years, was run on Sunday afternoon, the week before the Daytona 500. It was a great afternoon, the race started at noon, with the ARCA race an hour after the shootout ended. You could drink a few beers, watch two great races, and be home, in bed at regular time, ready for work on Monday.
During the time when NASCAR was riding high, they decided to make the race about television, and not the race-crazy fans that love to go to the track. They moved the race to Saturday evening, the ARCA race runs earlier in the day, then you need to find a way to kill three to four hours until the shootout. The weather can be quite cool in February at the track, and if the wind blows, you can freeze for three to four hours waiting for the green flag. They have entertainment, but it can still get cold.
I attended two nighttime Shootouts, and realized it wasn’t as much fun anymore, and had become difficult to attend if you didn’t want to get a room in the area and spend the night. I decided it was easier to watch on Television, after all, that’s what they wanted me to do.
So after the long layoff, and the teaser that comes with the Pre Season Thunder event, it’s time for them to tighten up the seat belts, and go racing. The race doesn’t count for any official points, just a lot of money, and a trophy. But that’s why we love the sport, when you put these guys on a race track, and tell them, the first one across the finish line wins, they don’t care what it’s for, they just go race. That’s what I love about the sport, and the greatest drivers in the world. Boogity..Boogity..Boogity!!
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