Memories of Daytona 500: PGA Tour pros don't know what pressure is
The first time I stood in the infield at Daytona International Speedway, leaning into the chain-link fence, and watched the start of the Daytona 500, I understood viscerally this was nothing like the sport I had seen on television.
I’ve covered every major sporting event in the U.S. – Super Bowls, World Series, NBA Championships, Final Fours – and had never felt that kind of thrill, the overwhelming roar of the engines, the hysterical anticipation of the crowd, the intensity of the pit crews. If you could imagine the moment before Hell really does break loose once and for all, you have an idea of what the start of the Daytona 500 feels like.
There is nothing like it in all of sports, and no sport suffers as much from the in-person translation to the tube.
The first time I took a buddy to the infield to watch qualifying, he said it felt like he was watching airplanes.
I have some incredible memories of Speedweeks: sitting and talking with Richard Petty in his trailer for more than an hour – the guy not seeming to realize he was The King – sneaking into an enraged Davey Allison’s trailer after he lost the 500 on the last few laps, his crew chief trying to calm him down, watching Dale Earnhardt in amazement as he made mincemeat of the other drivers in an IROC race, where all the cars are equal and only the driver makes the difference.
I was in Daytona Beach this year just as Speedweeks was starting, and I remembered all this and more whenever I drove by the speedway, which looks more like an over-sized Roman Coliseum where gladiators fought to the death.
Covering the Daytona 500 gives me a little perspective when I hear a pro golfer talk about the pressure involved with sinking a putt with a tournament on the line. Those guys don’t know what pressure is, compared to NASCAR drivers. They miss a putt, they’re out some money, not their life or limb.
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