In the crazy world of NASCAR, the biggest moment in this racing calendar is not at the end of the season, but at the start.
But Sunday’s Daytona 500 means so much more than just the herald of another exciting season.
It will kick start an effort to keep alive a fantastic sport amid a great deal of change. In an excellent story that ran this weekend, the N.Y. Times highlights the changes that happened to NASCAR – everything from the fact that Dale Earnhardt Inc. will no longer compete to major changes to teams fielded by legend Richard Petty. The story notes the track had to reduce prices in order to sell thousands of tickets to this year’s event.
Ken Willis, a columnist for the Daytona Beach News Journal, weighs in, noting how NASCAR was founded at a time of recession but that it has managed to survive. The paper also reports that while grandstand tickets are gone, pricier infield tickets were still available.
To highlight the concern about the sport, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will be the grand marshal at this year’s race and his press release touting the fact Crist went out of his way to say “we must remember sports traditions like NASCAR are a major part of the state economy.” Crist’s office estimates that Daytona International Speedway alone generates $155.4 million in sales tax revenue for Florida.
What this means of course, is when he says “Gentleman start your engines” he won’t be talking about just one race.