Let’s face it: Big events are terrible.
More than 100,000 people descending on a destination laughably unfit for the attention. Bursting at the seams of its infrastructure and mobility. Anything you attempt to do will be greeted by a line. A line to move, a line to eat, a line to see, a line to pee.
Always in a line. And lines are awful.
The Daytona 500 should be no different. But it is.
Because most events attract 100,000-plus people because everyone wants to be there. The Daytona 500, on the other hand, has commentators, writers, outsiders and other sports aficionados telling you that no one wanted to be there.
The problem is they were there – the forgotten, post-majority, God-fearing Trump voter. The people whose existence continues to be debated by the coasts. They do exist, and their existence is proven at the 500.
Sure, when you see the crowd and clientele in this incredible amphitheater location, it will trigger every stereotype you have been fed into your psyche.
Rednecks, hillbillies and cowboys. Overweight, toothless and uneducated. Surrounded by Southern, snakeskin-cowboy, industrial opulence.
But that’s because you want to see those things. You’ve been told to be prejudiced at the perceived fan base.
And that is much like heading to China and only seeing communists.
You’re judging by what you’ve been told and selling yourself on what you see.
The key in an event such as the Daytona 500 is to talk, which is impossible in the normal sense of using words and sounds. Most of the time it is so loud, hearing damage seems the only outcome.
But you will talk — via gestures, glances, pointing and jumping.
It’s all very primal, but it allows you to connect with the man who has had too many Budweisers and looks as if he spent the last day on the surface of the sun. The woman to your right who looks like the 1980’s stole every bit of life from her and left a deflated, gray-straw hair, coughing corpse in its wake. In a sleeveless Dale Earnhardt Jr. T-Shirt.
This isn’t Americana stoic in a museum. This is Americana in motion at 200 mph, and you’re a part of it.
You won’t find that at the Super Bowl, no matter which team is playing or where it’s located. You will get the wealthiest, most-educated and best fans that city has to offer. Because a ticket costs more than an Ivy League education and stadium capacity is limited to roughly 80,000, it’s a select few who can afford the privilege.
At the Daytona 500, you get the fans, the people, the Americans. They can’t afford to go, but they are there. Separated by a mere single railing from a successful oil executive grand poobah, drinking a Budweiser in a five-figure suite. It’s a rite of passage, it is near and dear to their hearts, and it compels them to revel in the high-octane experience.
And because of this, there never has been a better time for you to go. (EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s been only a month since the end of the most recent Daytona 500, but it’s never too early to plan a trip for the 60th running in 2018.)
I was sitting at a bar in the Daytona airport when a man burst in, and the bartender asked how he was doing. The man – balding with olive-hue skin and wrinkled like an old piece of leather because of a lifetime of tobacco products – responded “@#%&ing terrible, I gotta head back to Connecticut”
He wants to stay in the sun. He agrees with what’s here. He tells the bartender, “This is the worst year yet, I was talking to a couple bar owners, and they are all preparing for Bike Week. No one under 35 likes NASCAR anymore. No one.”
The guy to his left agrees, adding “seems a lot of sports are having this problem.”
At this time, I had to leave. But the message was clear: Our perception is our reality and therefore there never has been a better time to attend.
Among the aging, graying, empty-nesters, and Medicaid-addled fan base sits a sport ripe for the young, vibrant and independent to make it what they want. It’s ours for the taking.
The NFL won’t listen to you, nor will the NBA, but NASCAR will — and through all its negative press, perceived fallacies and ridicule.
I ask you to find me a more American form of sport. You can’t.
Attend next year’s Daytona 500 (or any year) at least once for America, and you will see. It’s a big event worth attending, and the best time to go is right now.