February 20th, 2011 is a day I’ll never forget. That Sunday, I had the opportunity to experience the “Great American Race” in person for the 53rd running of the Daytona 500.
Of course, this year’s race was highlighted by the unforgettable inauguration of E15 on one of the grandest stages in all of sports. Here’s a behind the scenes look at how my day unfolded.
6:00 a.m. – My wake-up call hits me like one of Tiger Woods’ missing nine irons. I was so excited the night before I didn’t end up cracking REM sleep until at least 3:00 a.m. However, there’s no-time to risk rolling over. I have to be to the track by 7:00 a.m. to insure my pre-race ride in the pace car around the infamous Daytona International Speedway.
8:30 a.m. – I jump in the backseat of the pace car. I’m literally eating my kneecaps and quickly realize why race cars haven’t taken off commercially in the “starting a family” sector, or for guys who frequent the Big and Tall store. I’m also, at this point, assuming these missiles on wheels don’t come standard with side and rear airbags. My mom would not approve. I love it. As we rocket down the backstretch, I hear our driver rattling off our miles per hour. We hit 140 mph on the straightaway just before banking into the final turn. After abruptly decelerating to 55 mph on pit road, we eventually come to a complete stop. Mission accomplished. I thank my driver, who I contemplate tipping, only to learn he’s the president of Daytona International Speedway. Good call on not tipping.
11:30 a.m. – Somehow, my wife and I have now managed to wedge our way into the drivers’ meeting. The drivers and their crews start piling in along with a host of celebrities. Some rookie driver happens to sit right in front of my wife. He turns and smiles at her prompting some cat calls from the rest of our entourage. I quickly bring her back down to planet earth and suggest that she probably reminds him of his mother or nanny. In fact, if this kid hadn’t been wearing a long-sleeved shirt with #21 on the back I would have assumed he was lost and brought him immediately to the nearest security station.
1:05 p.m. – Probably the coolest part of the day for me. Just as the cars are about to cross the starting line the public address announcer says, “Alright NASCAR fans, let’s wave them by with your green American Ethanol flags!” There’s nothing like seeing more than 100,000 people standing and waving your industry’s flag.
2:45 p.m. – I find myself completely captivated by the bump-drafting that’s taking place on the track. At times it feels like you’re watching two animals propagating on the Discovery channel…except they’re cars…and they’re going 200 mph. I find that remarkably impressive.
LAP 105 – I’ve ditched the watch and opted instead to measure my mere existence and exact location by laps completed. This is the lap that will go down in infamy for me for all the wrong reasons. No there was no major wreck on the track that eliminated my favorite driver. Rather, this was the lap where my wife officially tapped out. To be fair, she had been battling the flu all weekend. This is stuff they don’t cover in your pre-marriage counseling sessions. I was searching for various shades of gray in that “for better or worse” part. There has to be some Act of God clause that comes into play when attending the Super Bowl of racing.
FINAL LAP – By now I, like most of you, for better or worse am watching the amazing finish on TV. That rookie driver I mentioned earlier, the one who I almost returned to the lost and found during the drivers’ meeting, he ended up doing OK. In fact, I’ve come down with a bad case of Bayne Fever…forget Bieber. I just ordered a spoiler, new rims and some #21 decals for my 2007 Honda Civic. I’ve heard that’s a common side effect after attending a NASCAR race in person. I take comfort in knowing NASCAR hasn’t seen the last of me. I’ll be back – minus my incredibly understanding wife.
Marcus Ludtke graduated from the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn., in 2001 and started working for POET Risk Management in May of that year. His primary responsibilities include managing POET’s corn position and market research.