DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — NASCAR Day and Daytona International Speedway. Talk about a perfect pairing.
Hundreds of NASCAR fans felt that way Friday as The NASCAR Foundation partnered with the speedway, the event’s host, for the 15th annual celebration on the plaza area outside the DIS Ticket and Tours Building.
In the city where NASCAR began in 1947, fans gathered for a sun-splashed lunch and a chance to win prizes through a raffle; proceeds benefited the foundation, NASCAR’s charitable arm that focuses on improving the quality of life of children in need throughout the United States.
“It’s a beautiful day and this is for a good cause,” said one of those fans, Daytona Beach’s Sean Ruddy.
Ruddy said he’s never missed a NASCAR Day at DIS. He plans on keeping that streak intact, being a lifelong follower of the sport.
“I grew up in this area and [my fandom] probably started with my Dad who brought me over here to the races. We would work on the concession stands or the souvenir stands back in the day, just to be able to get into the track and say we were there.”
Gale Stump came down Friday from Jacksonville. She took the day off from work and arrived in head-to-toe National Guard racing garb, a holdover from her days of following Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the NASCAR Cup Series, when he was sponsored by the military branch.
“I’ve been a fan forever – old school,” Stump said. “For me, it started in the early 1990s with Dale Earnhardt Sr. and then later with Dale Jr. But I also followed Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, and Tony Stewart. And now, it’s the young guys coming up.”
Stump, too, was eyeing the prizes lined up for the raffle. There was a lot to eye.
Tickets cost only $1 and potential payoffs were enticing. Among those prizes: Two-night stays in several of the city’s premier hotel-resort properties … 2019 Daytona 500 champion’s hat and helmet signed by Denny Hamlin … tickets to the July 5 Circle K Firecracker 400 at the speedway … and a NASCAR Racing Experience Ride Along Package.
“We really need to thank Daytona International Speedway for helping us celebrate our sport, our community and our fans – and also for supporting our efforts to help children because at the end of each and every day for us, it’s all about the kids,” said Nichole Krieger, executive director of The NASCAR Foundation, which was founded in 2006 by the late Betty Jane France.
And so it was most appropriate that a youngster well-known in NASCAR circles was in attendance Friday – the “NASCAR Whiz Kid,” 13-year-old Michael Nichols of Ormond Beach, who possesses an astounding acumen for NASCAR history. Ask him a question, any question, and he invariably can supply the answer.
The Whiz – wearing his trademark checkered-flag bow tie – wasn’t being quizzed Friday. He and his father Michael Sr. were, like others, just enjoying the atmosphere at the “World Center of Racing.”
“This is like the NASCAR holiday,” the Whiz Kid said. “One big [special] day each year.”