This is by necessity a very personal account, since I arrived late (about 9AM Sunday) and left early (about 3PM to catch a 6:20 plane from Orlando.)
Serendipity – the word is as pleasing as the concept – brought the opportunity this year to visit Daytona on Sunday, the last day of the Mecum Kissimmee auction. The last day of a multi-day auction [and Mecum Kissimmee is now the most multi- of all multi-day auctions: nine days with an Automobilia Monday break in the cars] is pretty laid-back. Transporters have been frantically hauling cars off-site to try to keep pace with the logistical challenge of effecting the arrival and departure of over 2,500 cars in a two-week span. By Sunday the sold car lot is pretty sparse and the pickings slim for auction reporting.
On the way up I-4 Sirius-XM played songwriter Charlie Ryan’s “Hot Rod Lincoln”, sold at Barrett-Jackson the prior weekend for $106,700 and a happy counterpoint to the coming racing.
Entering Daytona International Speedway’s giant D-shaped bowl never fails to amaze.
It’s just big, really big. The sound of big eight- and six-cylinder engines reverberates across the dish. The smell of barely-burned racing fuel mingles with the woodsmoke of countless campfires and, as the day progresses and the Florida sun reaches its zenith, the smell of sunscreen.
Seeing the Daytona 24 on television highlights the empty stands. But the spectators are in the infield, packed cheek-by-jowl in campers, tents and cars largely invisible to the SPEED TV cameras.
It’s a seamless party, just as it’s always been for high quality road racing.
With no reporting requirements I was free to wander here and there across the infield, perching for a half hour here and fifteen minutes there to wallow in the sensations of infield, banking, paddock and pits. Boris Said was there, enjoying an Italian sub after a stint in the Turner Motorsports BMW M3 (the healthiest-sounding M3 on the planet even after mishaps that put it some 40 laps down from the GT class leader.)
It’d been nearly a decade-and-a-half since I’d attended a front-rank professional road race. Television coverage is now exceptional. Legions of producers with megabytes of data at their disposal back up whisper technical, personal and historic vignettes in the ears of informed commentators. Cameras are everywhere. No incident goes unremarked, no pass is missed.
That said, the personal, live, in-person impression is so much more rich.
Racing, whether on the track or watching it on-site, is an intensely personal experience and can’t be replicated on the biggest screen.
At the 2013 Daytona 24 Hours it didn’t hurt that with two hours to go there were four Daytona prototypes (BMW Riley, Ford Riley and three Corvette DPs) on the same lap, and seven GTs (two Ferrari 458s, three Audi R8s and two Porsche GT3 Cups) within one lap. A caution with an hour to go left all the competitors – who could go about 45 minutes on a tank of fuel – with a quandary.
Resolution of that quandary illustrates the team sport aspect of endurance racing. The 2013 Daytona 24 was settled on splash-and-go pitstops with minutes left in the race with the Ganassi/Sabates BMW Riley the winner with flawless driving and execution on the track and in the pits throughout the day.
In 2014 Grand-Am and IMSA will be integrated. The prospect for professional road racing is portentous.
It’s worth the trip, the discomfort and the traffic just to absorb the reality of teams and spectators: the sights, sounds and smells. It’s a multi-sensational experience that television can’t impart.
My cheek muscles ached from a continuous 6-hour smile.