As a Motorsports fan (and former racecar driver myself), I’ve always wanted to attend the iconic Daytona 24hr race in Florida. I’ve been to Daytona before as a crew member (not for a 24hr race though) but that was 20yrs ago and a total disaster (the car wouldn’t work). This time would be different though. This year I was going down to watch as a fan, and this year I would be driving down in the Jeep.
My partner and I hit the road early on Wednesday morning and as expected, we hit some bad weather in Buffalo. It’s always Buffalo. Why do people even live there? It’s always bad weather and snowing. Okay…ignorant statement sure but when stopping for fuel one of the locals from Buffalo even said “Yeah we’re still here but I don’t even know why” when discussing the worsening storm.
The storm was a serious issue actually, and once of the reasons for leaving so early wasn’t just because it’s a two day drive to Florida, but also to try and get ahead of the worst parts of the storm. We were mostly successful. Once we hit Pennsylvania though, we were getting hammered pretty hard and were faced with poor visibility and some seriously slick roads. It didn’t take long to spot a few cars in the ditch and a jack-knifed truck that shut down the highway going North (fortunately we were heading south). I would have liked to help pull one of the vehicles out of the ditch (a fellow Jeeper) but with a transport truck riding my bumper at the time, any sudden attempt to stop or pull over would have lead to a disaster for us all. It would have been a good chance to use my recovery gear in the real world, but that time would come later on in the trip (in the most unexpected time).
After spending a night in Wytheville, Virginia, we carried on driving to Florida. Fortunately the drive on day two was nice and uneventful. Now although the race is in Daytona, all the hotels in that direct area were stupid expensive and all the affordable ones had been sold out for months. I only decided to do this trip in back in November and the best reasonably priced hotel that I could find was in Palm Coast, FL which was 30min away…about 50km (31miles).
I bought a 4-Day pass for the track and it was only Thursday evening but we were done driving for the day. Time for some rest.
We made it to the track Friday morning around 9:30am and it took a while to walk around and get our bearings. Eventually we found the Tram that would shuttle us into the infield where we would find the fairgrounds, the paddocks (where the race cars and teams were setup), the Fanzone, merchants, and other vehicle displays, and the Ferris wheel. Yes, they have a Ferris wheel. I guess they really want to have the 24hr of Le Mans experience here in the USA and they’ve been doing this for decades now so they pretty much have it figured out. Now THAT is another race that I really want to attend…the 24hr of Le Mans in France.
Our first priority was to just to take it all in before hunting down a few friends of mine. One of whom is Daniel Morad, who is not only a long time friend but also one of the drivers. He was recently signed with WINWARD Racing as a driver in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge in a Mercedes AMG GT4 on Saturday.
Sidenote: Morad wasn’t slated to race in the actual 24hr race (just the 4hr race on Friday), but one of the drivers for the main 24hr race had crashed hard in practice on Thursday and Daniel was asked to fill that role also.
After meeting up with him for a while in his paddock, it was time to find Ashley, another friend of mine, who was a crew member for the #13 AWA LMP3 car.
After taking in the sights and sounds, and watching the 4hr race on Friday, we returned to the hotel for the night. The big show was Saturday and we arrived at 10am to get a good seat for the start at 1:40pm.
What a show! The only thing missing from the opening ceremonies was a squadron of airplanes doing a flyover of the track. They should really add that. After a long day of watching the main event, we returned to the hotel for a power nap. We wanted to be back for the fireworks at 10pm, and they certainly didn’t cheap out on those. We stayed until about midnight and decided it was time to retires for the night. Sunday was sure to be a long day.
We got back around 10am or so to find that the #13 car had been involved in a multi-car crash around midnight (just after we left). They did recover, kinda, and in the end they finished 4th in their class. Their sister car #17 actually came in 1st taking the win in their class. Well done AWA!
Dan’s team though would suffer true heartbreak. They were in a serious battle for a podium position and with 40min to a full course caution came out. They were in 2nd place for the restart with a solid chance at getting the win and taking home the most sought after Rolex watch available. You can’t buy it. You have to win the Daytona Rolex 24hr Race. When the light went green though, with just 32min to go, all the cars were bunched up and the WINWARD car was clipped and pushed against the wall resulting in a flat tire. And that was it. They were out. It was an emotional blow for us as we had watched them race for so many hours and listening to them on my scanner but our emotional heartbreak would of course be nothing compared to what the team and the drivers felt.
With the race over, we decided to hit the beach. We learned that Daytona Beach is one of the few beaches that you can actually drive on. This is how Stock car racing got its start…by racing on Daytona Beach. So we took the time to check out one of the sections that you were still allowed to drive on.
It wasn’t long though before we came upon a family who had gotten their truck stuck. And I mean really stuck! It was one of those typical Floridian jacked up pickup trucks with a huge lift kit and low profile knobby tires. All show and no go, and with only 2WD it was buried up to it’s axle in super soft, powder like sand. He wasn’t getting out without help.
It was at this moment that I realized that I could get him out in just a few minutes with the recovery gear that I had in the Jeep. I bought this stuff (specifically the kinetic recovery ropes), expecting to use it on people stuck in the snow, or on some offroad trail in Canada; not on a sandy beach that people drive on all the time.
So I lined myself up, and starting rigging up his truck to my Jeep. In a few minutes, I was ready to free this pickup truck in front of a growing crowd of spectators. It’s not something you see everyday and it’s pretty neat to watch. So with everything set, I got back in my Jeep, hit the gas, and to the sound of cheers and applause, the truck popped right out of the sandy pit it had dug for itself. Then when he tried to drive away, before I even unhooked him, he got stuck again. Okay…time for one more yank.
Now you would think this would be a good learning opportunity, but noooo….”Florida Man” decides to go park 30m away in the exact same sand that he just was just stuck in. Well dude…if you get stuck again, you deserve to pay for a tow truck to pull you out.
Once all was said and done, it had been a long, exhausting day packed with experiences….racing, driving on the beach, doing a recovery. It was time to retire to the hotel and get ready for the next big chapter of the trip…Kennedy Space Center!