Daytona Speedweeks 2007–ONE FOR THE AGES Part 1

 

As I sit in my hotel room waiting for the second weekend of the 2007 NASCAR season to get started, I have been pondering all the events of Speedweeks 2007 at Daytona since my arrival there on January 3rd.  My first Speedweeks at Daytona was back in 2000 so certainly the novelty of being here has worn off somewhat. However, as I look back on everything that happened from the beginning of January to the third week of February, I believe I was fortunate enough to be a part of racing history.

It may not seem like it now but I am predicting that, in the future, Speedweeks 2007 (specifically the 2007 Daytona 500) will be remembered along with the 1979 race and other Daytona 500′s as one of the all-time greats.  My adventure this year began, as it has since 2001, with the January test sessions. This year, I was lucky enough to be there when the Rolex Sports Car Series rolled into the “World Center of Racing” for their 3 days of testing. The series has boasted fantastic growth over the last few years. Need proof? This was the first year that Rolex Sports Car Series testing was open to the public. While not drawing the kinds of crowds that the NASCAR test sessions enjoy, the sports cars have their own “hard-core” followers who were there because they wanted to see first-hand all the teams and drivers changes for the 2007 season.

Next came the Jackson-Hewitt Pre-Season Thunder test sessions for the top 3 NASCAR Divisions. Not even cooler than normal temperatures (for Floridians, anyway!) prevented race fans from coming out and not only watching the mundane testing but getting the chance to question their favorite drivers about any topic.  DirecTV Speedweeks 2007 (yep, the marketing folks at NASCAR were able to sell the naming rights of the entire schedule!) got off to a great start with the running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, a grueling test of speed and endurance. In both classes, the DP (Daytona Prototypes) and GT (Grand Touring) classes, the top 3 were ON THE SAME LAP after 24 hours of racing! That, my friends, is astonishing, to say the least.  Juan Pablo Montoya (more about him later in part 2) was among the winning team of drivers which included veteran Scott Pruett and newcomer Salvador Duran. There were plenty of NASCAR drivers, past and present, sprinkled through the field–Jeff Gordon had the most press but there were others including Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte and others. In fact, there were 78 Champions of at least one major racing series driving in this years race!  Phenomenal!

As the stock cars rolled in, it was apparent right from the start of the practice sessions that things were going to be very interesting in all the divisions–ARCA, Craftsman Trucks, Busch and Cup Series. The ARCA race had its usual share of mechanical mayhem (otherwise known as crashes) but history was made with Erin Crocker earning the Pole and Bobby Gerhart getting his FIFTH Daytona ARCA win!

Whoever decided back in 2000 that the Craftsman Truck Series competitors would put on a great show at Daytona ought to be making big bucks. Nearly every race since that inaugural win by Mike Wallace has been fabulous–and the three-wide racing to the checkers in the 2003 race with Rick Crawford coming out on top would never happen again right? WRONG!!! This year’s race had the same script and provided proof once again that the Craftsman Truck Series puts on great racing almost everywhere they go–which is why some NASCAR fans view the series as the one that puts on the best racing! Congrats to first time winner Jack Sprague–even he had to admit that this win was the biggest in his career!

The Busch race, while not providing a spectacular finish, featured some hard-nosed racing at different stages of the event. Yes, Kevin Harvick won againbut before the “Busch-Whacking” complaints start coming out again, it should be pointed out that he will NOT be competing the full schedule in the Busch Series.

Believie it or not, I also had some time off!  In addition to three rounds of golf (hey, that’s what I call it!), I was also able to get out to Volusia Speedway Park for the Dirt Car Nationals for 3 nights. FINALLY, I got to shake hands with Shane Andrews, an announcing colleague whom I’m sure many readers of this space know.  He did a fantastic job with Rick Benjamin as the color analyst for the Speed coverage of Syracuse Super Dirt Week and provided his announcing talents for all the events at Volusia as well.  I also made it out to New Smryna Speedway for some good ol’ pavement racing with Joe & Sue Chisom, owners of Steelback Sauble Speedway in Hepworth ONT Canada.  GREAT TIMES!

NEXT–WHY THE DAYTONA 500 RACE WEEK WILL BE CONSIDERED AS ONE OF THE BEST ALL-TIME AT THE “WORLD CENTER OF RACING”

Mike Paz, Motorsports Announcer