I’m baaaackk! Poor internet connectivity (the woes of having a regional carrier) is the reason I’ve been missing in action the last few weeks. Rest assured, “management” is working on the problem. Management being me, of course. 😀
Photo by @pixelcrisp
If you’ve ever visited Daytona International Speedway, you were probably awestruck by it’s size and historical significance. It wouldn’t take you long to learn that the racing is unpredictable, unexpected, scary sometimes, and exciting.
The weather is the same way. February in central Florida is like May in the Midwest: anything can happen! This was our 11th Daytona 500. Every year, there’s at least one storm which goes, or has the potential to go severe. (Hence, it didn’t take us long to learn that it was WAY too much work to decorate a campsite to only have to take it all back down again.)
Speedway personnel had been through our campground (on Speedway property just outside turns 1 and 2) on one occasion prior to Speedweeks to warn campers to ‘button down the hatches’.
In camper-speak, that means to roll up your awnings and put away anything that could blow away (e.g. become a missile in high winds.) This wasn’t our first rodeo: preparing the campsite and staying on top of the weather is something we’ve done over and over again.
For instance, this is way too much crap to have out in high winds. And notice no one has their awning out? Unless you stake it down, putting out your awning is asking for trouble.
So anyway, business had been picking up steadily as Speedweeks neared. On Wednesday before the 500, the town and Speedway grew even busier as the infield opened. There’s an excitement in the air, which increases day by day as the culmination of hard work, preparation, and the anticipation of a new season of racing grows near.
The day of the race dawned sunny and warm, with only a few passing clouds. It was going to be a perfect day for racing!
Things start happening early around the campsite. Friends who are driving in from another locale arrive between 9 and 10 a.m. to avoid traffic. The Goodyear blimp flies over, as well as planes towing banners. There’s various pools and wagers amongst friends. And a bittersweet awareness that while this is the day we’ve all been waiting for, it’s also the end of the road for our Campground Gang to be together until next time.
About an hour before race time, my friend Peggy and I began making preparations.
There was only a 40% chance of rain in the forecast for that afternoon. However, Speedway personnel came through to alert campers of the possibility of severe weather. With the exception of closing the tailgate of our toy hauler, my husband loaded the Harley (we were leaving the next day anyway) and we secured the camp.
As race time grew near, cloud cover began to build, but the radar remained clear. We left for our seats around 1:00 p.m.; by that time, the campground was nearly a ghost town. We arrived at our seats just after the flyover, and in time to see the beginning caution laps.
Green, Green, Green!
Because Twitter is where I get most of my up-to-the-minute news, especially on race days, I jumped back and forth between it and the radar.
Brian Neudorff, a meteorologist in Idaho who refers to himself NASCAR’s unofficial weatherman, (@NASCAR_WXMAN) had been expecting the possibility of a rain delay for a couple of days.
At 1:40 p.m. Brian tweeted “anticipated storms were forming [ESE] of the track…are about 2 hours away with more possible to form.” It was apparently during this time frame the Daytona FanCam shot this picture of everyone in the stands, which shows me checking the Twitter feed. (Wonderful. At least I was in my seat.)
Daytona FanCam shot
At 1:48 p.m., Brian tweeted “Danger, Will Robinson!” Radar update, cell popped up 8 miles WSW of Track.”
I checked my NOAA radar, which showed it as a very small system, mostly green with just a touch of yellow. This was not a big deal, and looked to be a passing shower.
At 1:58 p.m., I read Brian’s tweet which had been sent at 1:51 p.m.: Rain is about 3 to 8 min out WSW with in 3 miles of @DISupdates as of 1:51 pm ET. It’s always the rain you don’t see…
Well, pooh, by that time, it was very nearly there. I really didn’t want to get wet. And if you’re wondering how I missed the tweet…there was action happening on the track. There was a race going on, remember?
I told Jimmy a shower was coming; he said, “You’d better put your raincoat on.”
As I put my jacket on, we began to feel sprinkles. The field was under caution at the time, although not for rain. I saw a tweet that said Danica had asked her crew chief if she should come in for fuel and tires; he told no, that it was going to pour shortly.
I passed that information along to Jimmy, and told him I was headed in. I wasn’t going to sit in the pouring rain!
Yes, I am a fair weather race fan.
“Give me your rain jacket,” he said. (Only one of us brought rain gear that day.) I passed off the coat, and grabbed my bag. It was starting to pepper rain at this point.
This is a radar image I missed that day via Twitter. That cell was much smaller on my NOAA app. Either my radar image hadn’t been updated and I didn’t notice, or the cell simply blew up really quickly.
If I’d seen this coming, I would have definitely headed back to camp!
The hallway had started to fill with other people taking refuge from the rain. I saw my friend (and fellow camper) Lisa standing in the hall as well. It seemed like we stood there for a long time, but the reality was that it was probably only about 10 minutes.
On the track, the race had been red-flagged.
We heard the jet dryers go out, and surmised this would probably stop soon.
But wait. This is Daytona.
And so, the rain increased. Most of the people who were seated outside began to filter in. The narrow walkway in which we stood grew packed, and we were all elbow-to-elbow as people squeezed through. Jimmy came in as well as Lisa’s husband Tucker. Shortly thereafter, the skies opened.
Photo by @frankfff
The picture above was taking in a different tower, but this is exactly how it looked when we were there. We were standing up against the rail in the inside hallway.
At 2:34 p.m, I found a text from my friend Peggy; she and her husband John had already headed back to camp, and were in our trailer with our dogs. I remember thinking that’s exactly where I wished I was at that moment.
Water began pouring in between the bottom of the bleachers and on top of us.
“Let’s go downstairs!” Jimmy yelled over the noise of the rain and crowd of people, and the four of us made our way through the crowded narrow walkway downstairs to the front portion of the grandstand which faced the street.
Photo by @The_Dave_Cave
Although this picture was taken in a different tower, it looked exactly like this where we were: large crowds of people moving in all directions. I wanted to grab a shot as we were going downstairs, but there was a whole crowd of people behind me. I didn’t think it was wise to hold up a long train of scurrying people!
(When you’re a blogger, life itself becomes almost like a documentary.)
At this point, we were only damp. (Well, I was slightly more than damp; my jacket which had kept my husband completely dry was soaked, and I got wetter as I wrestled it on.)
Once we got to street level, we stood watching crowds of people go by. I took a selfie of the four of us as we stood there. Wait. There was four of us. Is that a groupie? 😉
My poor husband. He smiles for like, a nano-second, then loses patience over how long it takes the shutter to snap and starts talking. Unless I sneak up on him or he’s not looking at the camera, he’s talking. Every.single.time.
A track or sponsor official happened by (he was someone important because he had a ‘hard card’ – an all access pass which gets you in anywhere at every race) and kindly offered to take a picture. We still have no idea who he was.
Photo by The Guy With The Hard Card
We remained there for what seemed like an eternity as it poured. We could hear thunder.
And yes, I’m still wearing my headset. The announcers stopped broadcasting and there was nothing to listen to. In all the excitement, I forgot to take it off.
We saw vehicles go by driving Betty Jane France away from the Speedway (or so my husband said, I didn’t actually see who was in the car.) Other vehicles with dark windows went by. We felt this was a pretty good indicator we were going to have some free time on our hands.
At 2:57 p.m., I received the first of two texts from the Speedway advising us to evacuate the grandstands, take cover, and secure campsites.
Although we could barely hear the announcements over the loudspeaker, announcers were also advising people to evacuate the grandstands and take shelter. It was still pouring, but the radar looked like there was going to be a brief clearing shortly.
“I don’t know about you guys, but I would rather make a break for camp rather than stay here if people start to panic,” Jimmy said matter-of-factly.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this Never-A-Dull-Moment-in-Daytona Day!