Tag Archives: daytona 500

Trevor who?

 

Yarborough won in a red and white Wood Brothers Ford wearing a Gold number 21 when Bayne was minus-23 years old (pic thehenryford)

After four hours of seriously intense racing the Daytona 500 was won by Trevor Bayne – a rookie who turned 20 the day before the race. The biggest question wasn’t how he’d done it, the question on the fans’ lips was who the hell is this Trevor kid? He had just snatched the biggest trophy in stock cars from under the noses of Mark Martin, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards – all drivers of some repute that are yet to tame all 500 miles.

 

The Wood Brothers, the oldest team in Nascar, ran the youngest driver in the field to the biggest moment of his life so far; quite a story. Jeff Gordon’s record of winning the Daytona 500 age 25 has been smashed and it wasn’t the only record to tumble at the beach today. A 17 car crash in the early going was just one of the record 16 cautions while 74 lead changes topped the previous best that was set way back in the 1970s.

 

The race started smoothly with two-car tandems quickly forming through the first 12 places while the rest raced as a pack. On lap three Daytona fell silent, except for the howl of 43 race cars of course, in tribute to the tenth anniversary of the loss of Dale Earnhardt. I proudly held aloft three fingers at home, shivers going down my spine as the 150,000 strong crowd did the same.

 

Plenty of bravery, nerve and speed were on show as the two-car tandems that have defined Speed Weeks led to nothing but bumper-to-bumper racing. The downside was that constant contact between cars allowed for very little flair to shine through as any hustling was often brutally punished, although Robby Gordon and Kyle Busch both dealt deftly with some serious cases of the oversteer blues. Still, it was fascinating hearing the drivers chatting to their rivals over the radio as they raced, the spotters on top of the stands who help the drivers avoid trouble were making deals from lap one right until the final restart.

 

In his early career Trevor Bayne ran the number 24 in deference to his hero Jeff Gordon, with whom Bayne teamed up with on Thursday in the Duels and in the early laps of the 500 before Gordon was caught up in the Big One, along with fellow Hendricks big boys Johnson and Martin, although the latter bounced back to contend for the win. During the course of his impeccable race there were plenty of elder statesmen who recognised Trevor Bayne’s potential and sought to lock fenders with him, in the end the youngster was pushed at the front on the final restart by old-timer Bobby Labonte – 26 years Bayne’s senior.

 

The race concluded with two green-white-chequers and it was the first of these that caught out Bayne’s drafting buddy David Ragan who was black-flagged for making his move across the track to team up with the 21 car before reaching the green flag. This left Bayne leading when a crash that took out fan-favourite Dale Earnhardt Jnr provided one more restart to contend with. Edwards and Gilliland pushed Bayne hard on these final, frantic laps and relegated Labonte to fourth, while Montoya and the Busch brothers were shuffled out at the last moment in a thrilling finish. All week we’d seen the leader passed on the final turn of the race but Bayne in his near-pristine motor held off the battered and bruised veterans that swarmed on his bumper.

 

After the race he was congratulated on the radio and replied by saying, “You’re kidding me? Am I dreaming right now?”

 

This new style of Daytona racing had drivers making friends with each other on the airwaves as they sought a buddy to draft with. Now everybody will want Trevor Bayne to be their best pal, although without a full-time ride for this new hero they may not get too many chances to dance with him.

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Memories of a black day

2011 marks a decade since Nascar lost Dale Earnhardt on the final corner of the final lap of the Great American Race. It also marks 10 years since my family and I boldly made the trip to the Sunshine State to go and see Nascar for ourselves. Obviously the death of a bonafide hero cast a shadow over our holiday of a lifetime, but for those who truly identified with the Man in Black it will have a cast a far longer shadow over their lifetimes.

As Dale’s life ebbed away his eponymous team took a one-two with Michael Waltrip leading home Dale Earnhardt Jnr; Senior would have followed them home in third place for the perfect family finish had fate not so cruelly intervened.

However tragic the event was in itself, what really humbled me was the atmosphere the following day. We were staying well over an hour away from the track and even out there the grief was palpable. The usual chorus of “missing you already” was gone, the ever-chirpy Florida service industry had wiped the smile from their faces. Perhaps we were so close to the epicentre of it all or maybe Americans wear their heart on their sleeve a little more than the reserved Brits, but to us it felt like a more tangible tragedy than Princess Diana’s death had been back home.

A decade has passed since then and the subject still makes this Limey well-up. Some small consolation came as Earnhardt’s replacement Kevin Harvick took the victory three races later at Atlanta. Then Dale Jnr won the July race at the track that claimed his Dad’s life. To achieve that while going through such a horrible time and thrust under the spotlight placed on him by the good-natured fans that were the younger Earnhardt’s real inheritance, that was real character. Even Jnr’s win in Wrangler colours, carrying the now fabled number 3 at Daytona last year was something special, it never gets old. I guess it’s because these successes are never enough to heal the old wounds, but they do provide some welcome relief.

But what really hit the heart hard was the number 3 salute given by the fans on lap three of every race in 2001. It has to be the most touching gesture from fans of any sport – 150,000 people holding aloft three fingers on the third lap of the race as the commentators hush. This lovely sight returned at Daytona last year as the 3 car took the lead, what a cruel but beautiful sport racing can be. Watch this magic moment here.

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Boogity boogity boogity!

 

The wraps come off the 2011 season at Daytona (pic by 359)

Racing is the most thrilling pursuit in the world bar none, so reading reports of meaningless F1 lap times at dull tracks is hardly a fitting way for the European season to start. Moto GP has a better idea by televising the Barcelona test and giving the fastest rider a BMW M3 as a prize, although that’s still not as exciting as a curtain-raiser should be. What we need is a pair of blue riband races sandwiching a whole month of motorsport all played out in front of hundreds of thousands of people. What we need is Speedweeks.

I always get excited about the new season once the beach at Daytona is echoing to the sound of rumbling V8s. It’s the same each year as the Rolex 24 starts the festivities of Speedweeks. This year the endurance classic was just that; a classic encounter that really sold me on the current Grand Am rulebook for the first time. Has it always been this good?

Tonight there has been more racing as the grid for the 500 was settled in the Gatorade Duels. Last week saw the Bud Shoot Out produce some of the weirdest racing I’ve ever seen – 206mph tandems that effectively made for eight-wheel race cars, the Duels were much the same. The smoother track surface may make things look a little less edgy, but the high speeds and the necessity for two cars to stay tied together conspires to create some wacky racing.

It says a lot about Nascar that they have already put rule changes into place to try to change the racing. I know things aren’t quite so simple in F1, but Nascar shames them when it comes to the ad hoc management of the regulations. Ditherers need not apply in Nascar. There could be further alterations to the cars between the Gatorade Duels and the main event with Sprint Cup series Director John Darby saying as late as Wednesday “We’ve got a long way to go until Sunday. The goal is to get everything under control so that we can put on the most exciting Daytona 500 that everybody’s ever watched. We’ll do what we have to do to get there.” Now that’s the spirit!

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