BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
What a difference three races make.
Daytona Beach is mainly known for two things.
First, their beaches are off the charts as you can take your vehicles on the beach.
Many years ago, The Daytona 500 took place on the sand until it moved to the Daytona International Speedway (DIS) 65 years ago.
Second, it’s the Racing Capital of the world as NASCAR and IMSA’s offices headquarters are there so as a result, the most prestigious races are held at DIS.
Things get cranked up in January as the Roar Before The 24 takes place and a week later, the Rolex 24 hours follows.
The Rolex 24 Hours is a fascinating race with drivers racing on a street course and driving on the oval. The race is 3.56 miles with a combined oval and an infield road course with 12 turns.
A total of 32 nations, were represented and seven continents to go along with five different race classes.
The notable advantage of the Rolex 24 has over the Racing World is it draws International Interest is timing: NASCAR, Indy Car Series and Formula One haven’t started their seasons.
There were 11 manufacturers from around the world. Of the 234 drivers, there were 82 American, 24 British, 18 Italians, and 11 French.
What’s amazing about this race is that during a massive endurance race, you gauge the manufacturer’s more so so than the drivers in terms of engines and all aspects of the car.
There were 61 entries and 4-5 drivers per car with an average drive time between 4-5 hours per driver. There were five different classifications.
Because of the huge media coverage, we had to take a trolly on the other side of DIS to get to the Media Center, but they were running 24 hours and so it wasn’t a big deal.
The best interview I had at this event was from Graham Goodwin, who is a media guy that has covered 89, 24 Hour Races.
He gave me some helpful pointers to prepare for this event, mentally and physically.
Going to the Rolex 24 Hours was like going to EPCOT Center because it felt like I was in a different country.
Many years ago, The International Race of Champions (IROC) used to have a 24 hour race that saw drivers compete against each other from NASCAR, Indy Cars, and Formula One.
There was a lot more familiarity with the drivers with the two major USA Series competing against each other. Indy Cars and NASCAR was like watching an All-Star Game.
The Daytona 500 is at totally different situation and it really began with the parking.
There would be no trolley as the parking was so close that it was an easy walk to the Media Center.
There was much less foreign coverage and 42 drivers participated in the field with the lone international driver hailing from Mexico.
If you’re looking for familiarity, there was a ton of that.
Unlike the Rolex 24 where the fans couldn’t track their drivers, no such situation exists in this case.
I’ve attended five races at DIS, two as a fan and I’ve covered three as in My current role with the South Florida Tribune.
I went to one Daytona 500 with My ex wife, who was a Jeff Gordon fan in 1997, and what a day as the Hendricks drivers swept the top three sports.
Gordon won the 39th edition followed by Terry Labonte, and Ricky Craven.
Gordon became the youngest driver to win the Daytona 500 accomplishing this at age 25.
Richard Petty had been the youngest winner at age 26, in 1964.
Gordon’s record was surpassed when Trevor Bayne won the 2011 Race at age 20, in a record that I doubt will ever be broken.
Several years later, I bought a ticket to the Coke Zero 400 that was held around July 4th.
A few weeks ago, it was great to see Richard Petty again as we rekindled memories of an interview with him that I did covering NASCAR Events at the Michigan International Speedway.
The King remembered me and I’m amazed how well he’s connected he is to the sport to the day.
Petty is now partnered with NASCAR legendary driver Jimmie Johnson.
Petty could be classified as “Mr. NASCAR” and legendary Detroit Red Wing, Gordie Howe, is “Mr. Hockey.”
During Saturday’s Media Availability, I enjoyed talking to Rochester Hills, MI native Brad Keselowski as two home town guys had a chance to talk about racing, racing icon, Roger Penske and much more.
The only thing Keselowski’s resume as the elusive Daytona 500 as he has won a championship and races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Keselowski was in this race all day until a late accident forced to have to wait until next year.
Doing an interview with NASCAR Broadcasting icon, from FOX Mike Joy was the icing on the cake in terms of the key media availabilities.
Then there was the race itself, which turned out to be the longest one in Daytona 500 History.
In a race that went into overtime and lasted 212 laps, the winner was Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Former UNC and NBA Basketball Player Brad Daugherty became the first African American Owner to win the Daytona 500 and he did it with a team that has one driver.
What an anti climactic ending to the greatest race that I’ve ever seen.
I watched the majority of the race outside and some of it in the Media Center so I could stay hydrated on a beautiful 78 degree afternoon.
Whether I return to watch another Daytona 500 remains to be seen.
If I don’t, then you can’t do any better than this!
When I put things in perspective, the word “Greatest” sums up my recent experiences at DIS!
The Daytona 75/65 (at the Speedway )turned out to be the “Greatest Race” I’ve ever seen!
Covering the Rolex 24, was the “Greatest Event” I’ve ever covered in my lifetime as I stayed up 30 consecutive hours in my first attempt at 60 years old!
This eclipses the four Super Bowls that I’ve covered because of the endurance/ determination factor to pull this off.
In this story, we’re inserting some videos that you’re going to enjoy.
We want you to feel like you were with us at this event.
One interesting video was with Chas Krall, who is working with Menards and promoting the ARCA Series which is a feeder system in NASCAR. That took place on Saturday.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at email@example.com and you can follow him on Twitter @TribuneSouth.
To see his broadcasts, subscribe to the South Florida Tribune at no charge, as there are a variety of shows that will be informative with timely commentary.