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Daytona…Then, Now, and Forever, Means Something

No one really knew what they had back in 1959 when stock cars were still being compared to those running moonshine, and then decided to see who could outrun each other instead of outrun the law.  No one knew what a high-banked track would do for a sport still in its infancy.  No one knew what one race would do for an industry that has been around for 76 years, nor an event that has been happening for over 90 percent of it’s existence.

No one knew that 500 miles would change the course of a series.  Yet, here we are once more.

Did anyone really know that one event could make or break a career?  No, but it was certainly well known when someone didn’t achieve that victory.  Some achieve it early, others take a while; some are still searching for it, and others called it a career without one.

Still, something about that Harley J. Earl Trophy signifies success, an achievement, something that cannot be taken away.

Some have taken the victory only once, but that one time has meaning.

Guys named Earnhardt, Andretti, Waltrip, to those of today like Burton, Bayne, McDowell or Stenhouse, all have won this event just one time, but that win meant more than any others they could achieve.  Some have multiples, like a Gordon, Jarrett, Hamlin, Johnson or Petty.  The first one had just as much meaning as the others, because it’s the one everyone has the desire to claim.

Some get so close, within inches or less.  Names like Truex Jr, and Martin, feel this pain.  Others had the car, the right desire, and something outside of their doing cost them the event.  Earnhardt felt this more than anyone.  Some had the victory in their grasp, and yet a decision made in the blink of an eye suddenly took it away.  A guy named Marlin knew this all too well.

Of all the events in a 36-race schedule, spanning nine months of the year, only one seems to matter more than others.  It’s the only time the biggest event kicks off a year, and once it’s over, everyone seems to feel the season can really begin.

It’s where some moments leave fans in silence.  A rolling No. 43 did that in 1988, as did Rusty Wallace in 1993.  It’s where “Rocket Man” had another pair of safety bars named after him, and unfortunately it is also where “I’m not a doctor” left fans worried.  A short time later, it was followed by an infamous quote, said 23 years ago nearly to the day, as we all heard, “After the accident on the last lap of the Daytona 500, we’ve lost Dale Earnhardt.”

If there’s an emotion to be used at the season-opening event, it’s been used.  Joy, anger, concern…sadness, frustration, anxiety…relief, shock, and even more.

Still, the 31-degree corners, 18-degree tri-oval, and 2.5-miles of asphalt still come calling each February.

No matter the emotion, when the middle of the month arrives, this track brings about everyone that is able to Florida, all chasing that big trophy.  A 40-driver field will see 39 drivers come up short, and have to wait an entire year to try again.  One driver will lose his car, a sacrifice in victory.  One team gets a car returned, after a 365-day stint on display after the event is over.

A championship is won over the course of a season, across the country at different tracks, different styles, and different conditions.  But, there is only one opportunity each season to win the big one, the one that can define a career, or complete a career.

Back then, no one knew that a 59-driver inaugural field that raced 500 miles without a caution flag would see the beginning of an iconic event.  Now, it has become the marque race to win every year.  A team may not win again for another 35 races, but in that one moment, with the biggest trophy on the line, they were the best of everyone and it cannot be taken away.

Then…now…and forever, the Daytona 500 is THE RACE that will make a season, and a career.

About Dustin Parks

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