Randy Lanier, the 1984 IMSA Camel GT champion and 1986 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, was caught, as you likely know, for selling marijuana and sentenced to life in prison with no parole. Several years ago he was released, an overdue gesture.
Lanier began his career working for a roofing company with his father near Miami, selling a little pot to fellow roofers. It was something of a revelation for Lanier: Selling pot “sure beat pounding nails on a roof in Florida in August.”
No doubt. This coronavirus pandemic that everybody is talking about has thoroughly botched the 2020 motorsports season, and it’s pretty admirable how most of the sanctioning bodies have tried hard to salvage what they can.
Which brings us to Sunday’s GoBowling 235, a NASCAR Cup Series race created out of whole cloth, allowed a limited number of fans to attend, so long as your temperature didn’t exceed like 104, and so long as you wore your mask, which hardly anybody did once they sat down. Fans were automatically socially spaced, with seats sold a suitable distance from your neighbor.
A NASCAR Cup race where not only don’t have to sit next to an inebriated chucklehead, but you can’t even if you wanted to? I’m in.
This is a good place to mention that I covered my first NASCAR Cup race in 1989, when I simultaneously discovered the Media Center, where you can typically sit in air-conditioned comfort, watch the race, and if you were in Richmond drink beer and eat chocolate-covered raisins. Free! Wait, not just free, you actually get paid for it!
It’s addictive. Addictive as selling marijuana, I bet. And it was even legal.
It isn’t that I don’t enjoy sitting with the fans, because I do – smelling the brake dust and the high-octane exhaust and the boiled peanuts (at the track in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, you call them “burled peanuts”). But even with the decline in attendance, a lot of people go to NASCAR races, and it’s crowded, and they spill things on you, shuck burled peanut shells at your feet, bump you as they pass, and cheer for the entirely wrong driver.
But now, the pandemic—in possibly the only positive thing you can say about it—cut the NASCAR crowd here at Daytona to a manageable number, with a wild guess of 8,000, in a stadium built for 100,000. The first IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship run after the pandemic started was here at Daytona, too, and Nolan Ryan could throw a fastball through the stands and not hit a soul. Which is great.
So we were up for the GoBowling 235, the first NASCAR Cup race ever to be run on the road course, complete with a brand-new and very cool chicane built into the start of the front straight. It’s Daytona, it’s history-making, and it’s in August, in Florida, which is a downright miserable month. For this race, and Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity race and Friday’s ARCA race, there were lightning delays. Not simple rain or snow delays, but something-that-can-kill-you delays.
But we signed on. Tickets, the cheapest ones, were $49 each. (The wealthy fans sat higher, and paid $75. No. Thanks.) So two tickets, with tax, two beers and two hot dogs (a reasonable $8 per order), we’re out $124 to watch the NASCAR Sunoco 159 with 39 Gander Outdoors trucks, and the GoBowling 235 with 39 Cup cars make history.
The only problem: As Randy Lanier said, it’s August, and it’s Florida. Now, we’re not pinkies from Delaware or someplace, we’re actual Floridians. Florida man. And we made it exactly one and one-half hours before fleeing to the Media Center (thank you, Russell Branham and crew!) where there is comfortable furniture, all the Lower Sugar Gatorade Thirst Quencher you can drink (one), a turkey sandwich and air conditioning. Plus, you can see the entire track from here (I’m writing this in comfort. You think it’s coming from Section 171, Row 14, Seat 6?)
By the way, according to my Harbor Freight laser measuring device which I bought because it was on sale, not because I need to measure anything, told me that the woman in front of me and to the left was just five feet, one inch away. Not six feet. Not socially distanced. I feel woozy.
It was a good day. Some observations:
Bubba: Driver of the No. 43, Bubba Wallace, was carrying a bright orange paint scheme for a new sponsor they have for seven races, DoorDash. The car looks great, and as someone who wondered aloud, and in this space, why they can’t get a real sponsor, thanks for whoever made it happen. That said, as Wallace, who is Black, exited the pits, which was right in front of us, a group of a half-dozen fellow Floridians booed him, one shook his fist, another gave him a double-fisted one-finger salute. I would have said something to that fan, but she outweighed me by a hundred pounds. I’m not making that up.
Go Bowling 235: Interesting sponsor, kind of telling you to quit watching racing, and go bowling, for goodness sakes.
Hot: How hot was it? Driver of the Cup Series No. 27 Ford, J.J. Yeley, barely made it to the pits before collapsing from heat exhaustion—his cooling apparatus wasn’t working. He was treated and released, and replaced in the race by Bayley Curry, who, the announcer said, was the only one standing around with a helmet and driving suit. Good for 23-year-old Curry: He lost his ride earlier this year when the owner of the truck team he drove for quit NASCAR over its ban of the Confederate flag, and Curry has been looking for a ride since. Not long ago, he tweeted, “Have helmet, will travel.” Right place, right time. BTW, multiple crew members had to be treated for heat-related issues, and one of the Truck Series racers needed a relief driver.
When you gotta go: NASCAR and the Speedway apparently are convinced that having a porta-potty outside every NASCAR Cup garage door–every garage door—somehow was safer than public bathrooms.
There were, by actual count, 34 potties up and down pit road, and more than that over by the garage. By the Cup garage, that is—the NASCAR Gander truck series people were on their own, with maybe three potties in their entire garage. Potty discrimination!
Trump 2020: There were two entries Sunday, sponsored by Trump 2020, likely sort of preaching to the choir. Tim Viens started last in the Sunoco 159 and finished 24th. Corey Lajoie, in the TRUMP 2020 Ford, started 29th, finished 32nd, nonetheless ahead of the Death Wish Coffee Ford and the Snickers Toyota.
Lightning strike: All the big-screen TVs, during the 45-minute lightning delay, offered helpful advice, such as, “Please implement your personal safety plan.” Mine is to not get struck by lightning. I think I need to flesh that out.
18 is a dangerous number: The two worst wrecks weren’t that bad, but involved front-row starter Christian Eckes, who tore up his No. 18 Toyota truck when he and Stewart Friesen (surprise!) got together on the front straight under the checkered flag. In the Cup race, Kyle Busch’s No. 18 went out of control when his left rear tire blew. Everybody was OK.
In all: Well worth $124. But there’s another Cup race here in a couple of weeks? Still in August? Start hydrating now.