Most of you know how I like to play word games to get you to thinking. I'm going to list some past and present drivers. How many of the names do you know? Dale Earnhardt Jr., Michael Waltrip, Grant Adcox, Ward Burton, Dale Jarrett, Jeff Gordon, Troy Beehe, Dale Earnhardt, Sterling Marlin, Davey Allison, Glen Ward, Ernie Irvan, Derrike Cope, Darrell Waltrip, L.D. Ottinger, Bobby Allison, Bill Elliott, Geoffrey Bodine, Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty, David Person, Benny Parson, and AJ Foyt. How many of those racers did you know? I'm guessing you knew all but four of them: Grant Adcox, Troy Beehe, Glen Ward, and L.D. Ottinger. Every one of those drivers at some time was a Cup driver. All of them that you knew have one thing in common.
They all won the Daytona 500 at least once. I can't tell you who won the championship in 1973 but I can tell you off the top of my head who won the Daytona 500. That would be Benny Parsons. Just so you all know I wasn't even born in 1973. That's just part of why the Daytona 500 is the crown jewel of Nascar. Champions fade but Daytona 500 winners are forever remembered.
Without Daytona there would be no Nascar. Granted many of the ‘original' drivers got their start running moonshine. It was Daytona though that brought from a regional sport to a national sport. With it being a hot spot for the wealthy and for a couple of automobile makers to relax it just seems natural to start our sport there. From those days a lot has changed. The race isn't ran half on pavement half on the sand of the beach. It's now raced at a state of the art racing complex. Is not just to see which manufacture has the best car but, to see which driver can maneuver that car in the draft. The speeds have increased, the amount of money won has increased, and the amount of people watching has increased. One thing though will forever stay the same. Only a handful of people can say they ever won the Daytona 500.
In the last twenty years fourteen different drivers have won. The average amount of cars in those twenty years that have tried to win was 796. That gave you a little better than a one percent chance of winning. On the other hand you have about a 3% chance of winning the championship. Do you understand why after winning seven championships that Dale said his career would not be complete without winning a Daytona 500? When I think of great racecar drivers Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, and Terry Labonte all come to mind. This year will be the last year for Wallace and Martin. Labonte's final time at Daytona it seems was last year. None of them have ever won the Daytona 500. In about a month the numbers are in favor of saying none of them will have won. Does this make their careers incomplete? Not at all, they all have had great careers but the glory of forever having their names inscribed on the trophy will have eluded them.
Winning the Daytona 500 is almost like winning the championship. Soon after you are whisked away to do many interviews. You are sent to New York to make guest appearances on Live and David Letterman. You are given a leather jacket. You get one heck of a check and you forever go down in the history books. The one thing that is different you have to give your car up for a year. Granted there is a show car for the champion but if you win the Daytona 500 kiss that car good bye.
I know to some that racing at Daytona seems like more luck then skill. While luck plays into it, it plays into all races; the skill of staying out of the big one is what pays at the end of the day. At the end of the day if you have won all of your fellow drivers consider you the lucky one. This is simply because they all wish they had done the same thing.
By Melissa Meek-Shields