I've done Brock Yates' One Lap of America twice now and both years have had the crown jewel of the super-duper speedways, Daytona, as part of the track mix. Back in 2011, team Shipka/Pozzi raccooned an axle bearing about 15 miles from the Florida/Georgia border and we spent the next 40 plus hours doing the following: sitting on the side of the freeway (me humming the theme song to Deliverance and James looking worried); spending three hours, which felt like forever, in the company of a smelly, backwoods tow truck driver; getting the Camaro fixed (thanks again, Frank); and discussing our next move. The choices were A) parking it for the night and getting some shuteye before leisurely driving to the track two days away or B) continuing on through the night to the next day's track, almost 900 miles away. We chose B. We fueled up on energy drinks and beef jerky, plus a couple of these really neat purple pills that are kissin' cousins to C10H15N (look it up), and we soldiered on. As you can probably guess, we missed Daytona. Fast forward to 2013 and blessed are the mulligans.
Let me tell you about Daytona. It's probably the most famous tri-oval on the planet. With the high, 31-degree banking it's impossible to walk from the bottom to the top (yes, I tried), and it's nicely littered with palm trees and concrete. Daytona's a ginormous facility that's roughly the same size as Rhode Island. Walking the road course felt like it took a day.
Both James and I had this track on our ever-growing "Bucket List," and we agreed that both of us would drive here (like most of the One Lap events, there's a morning and an afternoon session). As relative newbies to this high-banked, high-speed, hang-it-out-and-then-poop-your-pants-type of racing, we were more than a little apprehensive about our track du jour. I told James, "Have at it, good buddy. Tell me all about it so I can really scare myself poopless this afternoon." Can I send scouts or what?
Daytona is also where One Lap organizer Brock Yates, Jr. gets really stressed. Pacing pit road, chain-smoking, and popping Xanax by the handful, he worries. Yes, world-class drivers such as Leh Keen compete in One Lap but these hot shoe drivers are few and far between when mixed with the Regular Joes such as yours truly and the rest of us in the Vintage American class. And it's us Joes Brock worries about as we're loose cannons spewing our hero-driverness at three times the legal speed limit at frickin' Daytona. It's here that top speeds get embellished and we can boast we did some really cool Joe race driver-like stuff.
Coming to the afternoon session and I'm belted in, all HANSed up, and sitting in line on pit lane. The six cars before our group are on track and I'm nervously chatting nonsense with Brock when crash chatter comes across the radio about a Viper crashed in the "Bus Stop," a part of the track where you haul your butt down, then flick left with an "Oh, crap" right, followed by immediate release back onto the banking at speed. Brock lets loose with a few F-bombs as the remaining five cars make it back to pit lane. The Dodge was drug out of the sand and the five got their do-overs. And then there were four as yet another ended up on the wrong side of the same turn. By now, I'm ready to tackle Brock for some of that Xanax. Brock appears and says to me "You WILL brake for the Bus Stop!" I nod my helmeted head up and down as best can be done while wearing a HANS. Some idiot walks up just before we head out for our recon lap and says, "Be careful. There's sand all over Bus Stop." At the start, I'm third in line. My 30-second wait seems like an eternity, and when the green flag flies, I slip the clutch, hammer the go-pedal, shift from First to Second, and from Second to ... Fifth. Cursing like a sailor, I bang the shifter back into Second and again find Fifth on the upshift before eventually managing to find Third. I have met Eternity and its evil sidekick, Hell.
Now what's amazing ... scary ... cool … whatever you want to call it, about Daytona is the banking. You're merrily flying along fairly level and then you're thrown up the side of a concrete slab at a 31-degree angle. I find myself looking around the passenger side A-pillar trying to reacquire the track. The Camaro hates the banking; it claws and fights like mad to regain that flat surface. It's violent and fast; things happen very quickly and to hell with last night's dinner, I'm fighting to keep down that Milky Way I ate in the third grade! You know that sinking sensation you get in elevators? Magnify that by 100 and you'll begin to understand how bad my guts were churning. And throughout all this, the accelerator pedal is matted ... in Fifth gear for what seemed like forever!
And what happened at the Bus Stop? I got the braking point down when we walked the track but at a zillion times faster, good luck. Acquiring a turn-in point was near impossible and there's this little blue stripe you're supposed to look for near the start of the infield that becomes a blur at 155+ mph. Also unnerving are the little darts and leaps you feel in the higher banking, the Camaro lunging sideways from wind gusts. It's immediate, comes without warning, and is scary as hell when you're not expecting it. Exiting the final banked turn and entering the straight at these speeds has the car throwing itself savagely towards the wall. Your brain says lift, steer, do something but you don't dare. No other track commands this much respect nor offers up the same degree of fear as Daytona. I receive the checkered and want to kiss the garage floor when I shakily exit the Camaro and wobble over to a chair. James and others from the Vintage American class come over and ask me how it went. I tell them "I saw God!," then ask Jimi Day for a cigarette … and I don't even smoke. It's a track I can cross off that "list" and while I'm glad I drove it, I've got no problem waiting a couple of years to do it again.