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Tradition Is Dealt Another Blow By NASCAR

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 4 2019
Tim Richmond won the 1986 Firecracker 400. It was one of the final Firecrackers. This year, the traditional Fourth of July weekend’s run at DIS comes to an end. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Blistering Florida sun, walking on the beach, ocean breezes, fireworks exploding over the Atlantic Ocean, family vacations, and a presidential visit all point to the July NASCAR race at Daytona.

For 61 years, Daytona International Speedway’s second race has been a July Fourth celebration. The only time it failed to make its scheduled appearance was in 1998 when Florida wildfires forced postponement of the race until October. However, this year is the last time for the foreseeable future that stock car racing fans will focus on Daytona Beach for the Fourth of July.

Next year, NASCAR moves its July Fourth race to Indianapolis and the second Daytona event to late August. That makes Daytona the final race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season.

I understand the reasoning behind the schedule change and I know it will benefit the sport, creating excitement as the last chance, wildcard race, so to speak, where anyone can make the coveted playoffs. Still, the racing traditionalist in me hates to see the schedule change. After all, July Fourth and Daytona have been synonymous for my entire life.

Initially known as the Firecracker 250 in 1959, it became the Firecracker 400 in 1963. Four years later, my family and I journeyed to Daytona Beach for our lone vacation during my childhood. 

Erik Jones won last year’s July race at Daytona. The winner of next year’s second race at Daytona will celebrate in late August. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Andrew Coppley)

However, it was the 1984 race that perhaps ranks as the most special for many. That event produced two historical moments in NASCAR’s history. It was the first time a sitting president had attended a NASCAR race and Richard Petty came away with his 200th career victory in a sheet-metal rubbing dash with Cale Yarborough. 

That day President Reagan gave the start engines command from Air Force One. Yet, it was watching the gigantic plane land at the Daytona airport while the race was in progress that remains one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. The photo of Petty exiting Turn 2 with Air Force One in the background is one of my favorites. 

Originally, the race was on July 4, no matter the day, and it started at 10 a.m. That made it conducive not only for the fans to turn the event into a family vacation, but the competitors as well. With the race starting early in the day, when there were no rain interruptions everyone was finished with their work by 3 p.m. That all changed in 1998 when the race was shifted to a night event. Rain often became an issue, forcing the start of the race until after 10 p.m. Still the holiday, festive mood remained for the fans. 

When the Xfinity Series was added to the July weekend in 2002 it didn’t change the race’s traditional feel. Yet, next year everything changes. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Dale Jarrett both admitted Thursday on NBC’s telecast that it was difficult for them to think about not being in Daytona on July Fourth. 

Erik Jones, the race’s defending champion, admitted Thursday it was “kind of disappointing” to think about not being in Daytona for the Independence holiday. 

“I’m sad to see it go,” Jones said. “Maybe we will make it back over here at some point.”

Maybe we will, but for now, after Saturday night, July in Daytona will be merely a collection of special memories. 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 4 2019
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