Q: Greg, I really like your old car articles and am a NASCAR fan from the 1950s. Do you feel the Daytona 500 still creates excitement as it used to, or has all this modern style racing taken away from the intensity? Thanks much, Kevin F., Pennsylvania.
A: Kevin, with the Daytona 500 scheduled for this week (Sunday, Feb. 24), I still derive a great amount of pleasure and excitement from watching “The Great American Race,” which it was dubbed in 1979 by Ken Squire on CBS TV’s flag-to-flag coverage. From that first fully televised race to today’s high tech televised innovations, coverage of the race is better than ever. (Check out the new camera angle when the cars go up on the banking this year.)
I’ve been a NASCAR fan since 1959 also, and actually saw my first 200-mile NASCAR style race back in 1958 at the Vineland Speedway in New Jersey. Although it wasn’t a NASCAR-sanctioned event, I sure loved the fact that the cars competing on the track were the same you could buy at your hometown dealership. Thus the phrase, “win on Sunday, sell on Monday.”
From the very first photo finish Daytona 500 in ‘59, which Lee Petty won, the Daytona 500 to this day is one of the true granddaddy’s of motorsports, and literally is watched by millions all over the world thanks to satellite TV.
As for today’s racing, I’ll agree there is perhaps too much emphasis put on parity for my liking, but the top teams still rise to the top. It just takes a few more million dollars in engine development to find the extra five horsepower than it did in years gone by.
I also applaud NASCAR for its new generation car, which debuts this week and are more identifiable to the fans and sponsors. Although underneath all the decals, manufacturer badges and paint schemes the cars are identical, each now does have a more consumer friendly look and demands more from the driver to get around the track, especially in a pack.
I also still believe that what happens on the race track Sunday does indeed influence a buyer’s preference at the showroom, and thankfully so do the car manufacturers or they wouldn’t be involved.
NASCAR is still big business and a big sport, although its TV ratings and attendance have slipped from previous decade highs. Not to fret, however, as NASCAR continues to tweak its formats, the drivers are some of the best in the world and the following is huge.
I’ll go out on a limb and pick a winner for the Daytona 500 this Sunday - Aric Almirola in Richard Petty’s Smithfield Foods No. 43. There are probably 30 drivers that can win this race if Lady Luck is with them and they find themselves in the right place on the last lap, but for whatever reason Almirola is my pick.
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Greg Zyla writes weekly for GateHouse News Service and welcomes reader questions on collector cars, old-time motorsports and auto nostalgia at 303 Roosevelt St, Sayre, PA 18840 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.