We attended a NASCAR RV rally a few years ago in Darlington SC, which confirmed our impression that we have absolutely no interest in this sport. That being said, it's hard to escape the magnitude of the importance of Daytona Beach in the racing world. The Daytona 500 was held last week and the area was full of fans and news of the latest developments. So we took a three hour tour of the track to learn more about one of America's favorite sports.
NASCAR started here. The beach at Daytona has special qualities. It is as hard as concrete and every time the tide changes, it sweeps the beach clean. In the 1920's and '30's, the beach became known as the place to set land speed records. We saw a set of tires from this time, almost shredded through from the friction of the sand. William France, Sr., moved to Daytona in 1935 to escape the Great Depression and opened a gas station. He was familiar with the history of the area from the land speed record attempts. After racing there himself, he took over running the course in 1938. He promoted a few races before World War and decided that people enjoyed watching regular stock cars race. The course was about two miles long. Cars drove one leg on highway A1A and the other on the sand. Spectators would try to sneak in without paying and cross through the beach vegetation until France put up signs warning about (nonexistent) rattle snakes. By 1948 France had written up competition rules and developed a regular racing schedule, recruiting promoters. NASCAR was born. We were given a copy of his rules which were two pages long. Today the rules comprise a 200 page book.
Fast forward to 1959 and new land was bought and the first version of the stadium we toured today was built. Today it seats almost 150,000 people and is being renovated. When that is finished the stadium will seat far fewer. Unlike the airlines, wider seats are being installed for spectator comfort. The stadium is used about 200 days a year for all different kinds of races including a motor cycle course. In the museum we stood close up to an exhibit which illustrated the banked curves which are at 31º. It would be impossible to stand on them; they are so steep. When we drove around the track on the little tour bus, thinking about driving at 200mph and peering up at those 31º sides looming over our heads, we were amazed. The last stop on the tour was to see the car that just won last weekend. It was still coated with dried champagne and the confetti which had stuck to it.
Many of the folks on our tour treated the place with the reverence I would associate with visiting a church or temple. We kept our mouths shut so no one would know how ignorant we were.