The Great American Race is set to kick off today, and race enthusiasts will be glued to their couches for 500 miles of fast cars and explosive crashes.
There’s nothing quite like the Daytona 500 in all of professional sports: it’s as much of a spectacle as it is a sporting event.
The Daytona complex is made up of 480 acres of space, hosting one of the liveliest camping and spectator scenes of any national sport.
It’s by far the highest grossing U.S. television ratings auto race of the year, and correspondingly boasts the largest purse of any national race.
Fans show up weeks in advance just to scope out a spot for their RVs and reconnect with friends from all over the country. For them, its the reunion of familiar faces, sights and sounds that keeps bringing them back to Florida the same time of year.
According to the Daytona website, there’s rarely a week goes by that the Speedway grounds are not used for events that include social gatherings, car shows, photo shoots, production vehicle testing and police motorcycle training.
But this weekend marks the Racing Super Bowl.
The Daytona 500 is traditionally held on the last Sunday in February, but last year for the first time since 1971, the Daytona 500 was rescheduled to Monday night, Feb. 27, 2012, due to inclement weather. But this year we’re right back on schedule.
The 2.5 mile-long, 40 feet wide track will host 45 racers, all yearning for a piece of the Harley J. Early Trophy in Victory Lane. As an additional honor, their winning car will be displayed for one year at the Daytona 500 Experience museum, which is located adjacent to the Daytona Speedway.
This year is shaping up to be one of the best races in its history, with a lineup that will be long-remembered.
Nine former winners stand out among the list of racers, including defending champ Matt Kenseth, who also won in 2009, Jeff Gordon (1997, ‘99, ‘05), Trevor Bayne (‘11), Jamie McMurray (‘10), Ryan Newman (‘08), Kevin Harvick (‘07), Jimmie Johnson (‘06), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (‘04) and Michael Waltrip (‘01, ‘03).
And while every race has its inherent drama, 2013 already revealed a historic moment when Danica Patrick won the pole last week for the Daytona 500, marking the first time in history that a woman won a pole in any Sprint Cup race.
She’ll now be rewarded by leading the field across the start line at the beginning of the 500-mile race, and commentators have already begun to buzz about her potential chances.
While her previous record doesn’t exemplify the best chances for a win, it would be a record-breaking moment that wouldn’t soon be forgotten.
So just like any sporting event, we’ll have to tune in and see to catch the best crashes, burnouts, comebacks that will result in this year’s elite winner.
I’m sure it will be worth it.
The Daytona 500 takes place today with the green flag scheduled for 1:05 p.m.
Ryan Carpe is a sports writer for the Daily Advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.