When people tell you there’s nothing like Daytona, there really is nothing like Daytona. Standing there with a beer in one hand and a fist in the other, waiting for that green flag to drop — it’s one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been a part of.
This was my first time. I’ve been to Talladega, Homestead, Circuit of the Americas, and a few other small tracks in between. But when those lights are on and that giant ‘Daytona’ emblem is staring back at you from the grass, you really feel like you’re dead in the heart of Nascar.
I got into Daytona last Thursday and already I could tell I was smack dab in the middle of Speedweeks. That’s what they call all the events leading up to last weekend’s 500 race. It’s surreal— it’s like the whole town shuts down to get ready for this monumental event.
Toyota was kind enough to keep myself and a few other journalists up in a nice hotel on the beach. Though, truthfully, it wasn’t used for much more than drunkenly passing out after the race.
We spent our whole day at the track; walking through the pits, checking out the cars, doing a few interviews. Matt Kenseth’s crew chief was one the first people we were able to speak with.
He walked us through what it takes getting a car ready for the duels and leading up to the 500. Basically, it was a lot of really technical racing stuff that pretty much went in one ear and out the other.
After that crash course, we walked over to the truck series garage. That was an entirely different animal. The trucks are sitting out in the open, everything seemed more hectic and urgent. It gives you that real Nascar feeling.
Being that close to the action, and watching all the teams work, you can tell that, albeit a far cry from the likes of F1 and endurance racing, there’s something so likable about the people and the cars. It’s easy to see why Nascar fans are so rabid. Amidst all the organized chaos, we had a chance to talk to Matt Crafton.
If you don’t know who Crafton is, he’s kind of a big deal. He’s been racing in the truck series for a number of years, and is one of Toyota’s — if not the entire series’ — most successful drivers. Winning a back-to-back truck series championship was previously unheard of, until Crafton came along.
After a short quip with Crafton, we made our way over to interview Clint Bowyer, who — only a few days previously — wrecked during qualifying and wasn’t all too happy with Nascar’s new rule changes. He was in a better mood when we talked to him, thankfully.
We asked him some basic questions. Though, if you know Clint Bowyer, he isn’t one for spitting back some generic answers. It was like talking to an excited buddy who’s telling you about his new car. Except his new car was a Toyota Camry stock car that he hoped would be crossing the finish line first at Daytona. He ended up doing pretty well, finishing in seventh.
The piéce de résistance from the weekend was actually getting on the track. Ok, so it wasn’t in a stock car — Toyota Tundra, actually — but I was actually one of those guys in the truck doing driver introductions. And guess who was in the back of my truck? That’s right, Joey Logano, the guy who won this year’s Daytona 500. It’s pretty clear that my superb driving skills wore off on him.
That’s what Daytona is: Fast cars, cool people, and some really crazy fans. I loved every minute of it. If you’ve never been, immediately put that on your bucket list.