Monday, February 27, 2012
Daytona - Sunday's Rains Echo Voices of the Past
There were signs early on, that Sunday wasn't going to live up to Florida's "Sunshine State" moniker.
By race time, a steady rain had arrived and rather than a green flag and the usual colorful assortment of sun dresses and bikini tops, Daytona was a sea of black, yellow and red ponchos. Security service employee wore clear plastic rain suits, other wise everyone else looked the same only in multiple colors.
As the rain intensified the crowd dwindled. The steady sound of rain drops plunking away at umbrellas and car covers was interrupted only by the splashing of golf cart wheels finding puddles along the uneven surface of the garage area.
Announcements were met with groans from those fans who remained in the grandstand. Drivers retreated to their motor coaches, crews to the garage area.
When the rain eased the video crews cornered drivers and crew chiefs. Jimmy Johnson held his daughter in one arm and an umbrella with the other and gave a dozen interviews.
Another driver displayed his English Bull dog puppy and rather than comment on the rain delay gave rather in depth review of the advantages to the English Bull dog over other breeds.
When the rain stopped the jet dryers took to the track and just about the time the track was dry the rain came again, at first nothing more than a fine mist, then over at turn two the sky opened up and the blimp disappeared and reappeared again before retreating to the south, the sound of it's continental engines whirling away off into the distance.
But in the rain, and the mist there was also quiet and if you listened carefully you could hear the voices of Daytona's past.
Daytona is a place that is hollowed ground, it is the Augusta National Golf Course of motor sports and as the rains came and the fans moved for cover those who braved the chill and the dampness saw a window into the past.
More than 50 years of history at place where greatness and skill and the human spirit drove hard and fast to over come the odds and the track itself.
In the rain the echos of the past were everywhere.
Along the front of the infield the voice of Richard Petty giving the command in 92 to "start your engines" from the inside of his Number 43 STP Pontiac for what was his final appearance in the race as a driver, his voice rolling across the pavement like thunder.
Along turn four there was Ned Jarrett was calling his son Dale Jarrett to "bring it home" and beat Dale Earnhardt in what has since been called the Dale and Dale show.
In the grandstand you could make out the crowd on their feet for Dale Earnhardt's epic win in 1998 and in the rain and the wind the voice of commentator Mike Joy yelling "20 years of trying, 20 years of frustration, Dale Earnhardt will come to the Caution flag to win the Daytona 500 Finally"
In the drizzle if you looked closely on Sunday you would have seen that "Every man on every crew had come out to the edge of pit lane to congratulate the driver of the Number 3 car a man who had dominated everything there was to win in this sport, except this race; until 1998."
Those fans who stayed through the four hour rain delay knew the truth long before the official announcement. Anyone with a smart phone and checking the their Weather Channel app knew that a wide swath of rain was encircling Daytona, a solid area of rain the ran west all the way to Tampa. Most fans gave up after the jet trucks retreated for the second time when the rains returned around 4 and they streamed out of the track like the place was on fire.
Then around 5:15 in a phalanx of tweets and PA announcements, the news spread that the The Great American Race had been officially called, with a 12 Noon start time for today.
As the cars were rolled back to the garage, mother nature symbolically declared victory as the sky opened up, hard and steady.
But in the silence and the rain the roar of the crowd from decades past could still be heard, and the PA Announcer calling names like Lee Petty, Benny Parsons, Cale Yarborough and Davey Allison echoing across the infield and fading into mist and darkness for this a place like no other a place called Daytona.