The Daytona Experience: NASCAR For A First Timer
This Is Daytona!

Okay I’ll admit it: NASCAR has never done much for me.

I know there are millions of people who live for it, but even with all the enthusiasm, I just couldn’t get into it.

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I came from the school of thought that this was a bunch of hillbillies who could only turn left, but after Speedhunter Sean Klingelhoefer explored a stock car race at Fontana a few years ago, he told me that it’s anything but. Sean came away with a new appreciation for a hardcore motorsport, and I knew I would too.

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All it took was an invite from the Australian EA studio called Firemonkeys to get me there. These are the people behind Real Racing 3, in which a player can race the massive 2.5-mile Daytona oval right on their mobile device.

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Like any good Speedhunter, I scoped out the track beforehand and decided to enter through a side gate and go under the track via this tunnel at Turn 4.

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This would immediately place me in the thick of the action, in the infield with the most diehard of NASCAR fans. These folks had been camped out all week enjoying the Daytona festivities during the lead up to the race.

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Looks like they had fun, eh?

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I found my way to the Media Center and picked up my photo vest. This would get me access to the pits and garages, which you’ll see soon in other stories I’m putting together.

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For this story though, I want to focus on the main event, the Daytona 500.

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While there are other races throughout the Daytona Speedweeks, the 500 is the one that everyone comes to watch.

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I have plenty of behind the scenes action to show you still, but for the big race I headed to the stands so I could catch all the ups and downs of the 200-lapper.

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As you can see, it was absolutely packed!

Tricks Of The Trade
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My Press Pass got me into the stands, but didn’t allow me a seat. I wasn’t sure how this would play out, so I went to the far end of the stadium and climbed to the top. Apparently this was a decent strategy, because before long I was joined by several other shooters. I was fortunate enough to strike up a conversation with this official NASCAR photographer, who offered to show me all of his favorite spots to shoot from.

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We worked our way around the stadium, putting ourselves in the best vantage points for a given time of the race. This guy really had it figured out. Unfortunately, I don’t shoot a lot of motorsports though, so my longest lens is a 70-200mm. Given that most of the other guys were shooting with massive telephoto lenses, I was in for a challenge.

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If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being thrown into the world of photography as a Speedhunter, it’s to keep my cool and work around the circumstances. I tried to capture the feeling of the crowd by letting them into my frame.

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The flag dropped and the cars were off. The entire stadium was on its feet, spectators rooting for their favorite drivers and capturing the moment on their cell phones.

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Here we see the entire race field going around Turn 1.

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They hadn’t yet had a chance to spread out, but after a few laps they sure did.

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It didn’t take long for the drivers to get tangled up either. This was one of several wrecks during the race, with both Regan Smith and Chase Elliott getting loose and sliding off track.

Danica Patrick’s crash was particularly epic as well. (note: this video may not play in all regions)

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Each time a wreck occurred, the yellow flag warned the drivers of a caution and the mess was cleaned up. Besides the crashes themselves being exciting, they also served to open up opportunities for the teams to strategize and bunched everyone back up for the restart.

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When I say strategy, I’m talking about pit strategy. The teams must carefully manage their fuel and tires throughout the race, so when a caution lap happened unexpectedly it was often a perfect opportunity for fresh tires and a top-off.

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A caution also gave the pit crews time to repair damage from collisions. At 200mph, aerodynamics become critical, so the crews did their best to get bodywork back into shape before sending their cars back out on track. More on this in the next story.

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Check out the damage a blown tire did to the side of Greg Biffle’s #16 car.

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The pit crews used sections of body panels to quickly repair the cars whenever possible, but other times they just busted out a roll of duct tape to keep things together.

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While the pit crews were fixing up the cars, trucks with jet engines blew debris off the track. These were louder than the race cars!

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A caution lap is like a reset for the whole race. With fuel and fresh rubber, the cars were bunched back up and the whole trajectory of the race could change in mere seconds.

The Perfect Vantage Point
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As the laps zoomed by, I had made my way to the other end of the grandstands with my new NASCAR photographer friend.

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I shot a ton of images that I knew I wouldn’t use, but I was figuring out what worked best given the situation.

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Shooting at the full 200mm reach of my lens, I was able to pan across the track as the cars blew by at 200mph.

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I won’t lie, it was a spray ‘n’ pray situation, but I was able to get some clean shots that I’m really happy with.

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From this spot we also had a good view of the pits. Check out Danica spinning the tires as she takes off.

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As we got closer to lap 200, the racing only grew more intense.

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Battles for position, risky passes and loose tires kept everyone on the edge of their seats.

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With one final caution, the stage was set for a tight battle. It came down to these two: Martin Truex Jr. in the #78 car and Denny Hamlin in #11.

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I don’t think anyone saw it coming, but in the final seconds Hamlin was pushed from behind by Kevin Harvick, giving him enough extra speed to barely beat Truex Jr. in a drag race to the checkered flag.

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It was the narrowest margin by which the Daytona 500 had ever been won – a mere .010 of a second!

The video is well worth a viewing! (note: this video may not play in all regions either)

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It was so close that Hamlin wasn’t even sure he had won. But once he realized, a celebratory burnout was mandatory.

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I happened upon this in the pits after the race, and can only assume it’s the aftermath of the victory skid.

Calm After The Storm
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After the race was over and the stands had cleared out, I made my way down to the finish line. There was a gate in the barrier wall that was open, and I guess my credentials were sufficient because I walked right in.

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Once on the track I discovered another dimension to Daytona that I didn’t know existed. For example, the fact that before the race ravenous fans had left their mark on the painted stripes.

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They got to the wall too, and I never would have known.

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It turns out this is also the prime spot for a selfie.

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Once that was done I was able to get the photo I wanted.

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The smell of Hamlin’s tires hung in the air, with thick clumps of rubber left behind.

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After all the frenzy of the weekend, there was a soothing stillness about the track.

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The birds even came in peck at the lawn. Oh, and more selfies were taken.

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As a first-timer to NASCAR, I can’t think of a better introduction. Sure, I came expecting something out of Talladega Nights, but in the end all I found was pure motorsport.

Stay tuned for more stories from behind pit wall, within the garages, and even a look inside a NASCAR team’s toolbox.

Keith Charvonia
Instagram: SpeedhuntersKeith
keith@speedhunters.com

Cutting Room Floor
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Comments

51 comments
MPistol
MPistol

.......... and then when it rains......... all the race cars....... they park...... 

greenroadster
greenroadster

I gave it a chance. Still not impressed by NASCAR.

jbfromsiliconvalley
jbfromsiliconvalley

Nascar announcer: They're turning left, and now they're turning left.....they're turning lefffffttttt.....and there they go turning left.....and they're still turning left


Dumbass jokes aside, Daytona looks like an amazing event to attend. 

joshb2448
joshb2448

Keith- Thanks for this great write up and I love hearing you enjoyed yourself. As a long time fan of the sport, it was my first 500 as well. I am really looking forward to more coverage of NASCAR on Speedhunters. Too many people have the wrong impression about the sport and articles like this go far in changing that.

cuki_yudhanto
cuki_yudhanto

@realracing don't just leave the 2015 liveries behind, please give us the updated livery for the old 4 cars..

Juan1er
Juan1er

@realracing I pay for this game. So, online races don't put me 2nd when I'm 1st or 4th when I'm 3rd. It happens very very often, too much !

TylerHorne
TylerHorne

I've experienced NASCAR races in every single way: in person, on TV, listening on the radio, newspaper, live Tweets, and now a Speedhunters article. 


And it is still the most boring motorsport on the planet. 

jdmbucky
jdmbucky

It makes me really happy to see educated people actually sticking up for NASCAR on here, I thought I'd be seeing alot more hate. 

Bridges
Bridges

For my 30th birthday my wife bought me a drive in the NASCAR Experience at the Nashville Superspeedway. I took some photos while I was there and wrote a bit about it here: http://www.bsquarephoto.net/2015/05/rusty-wallace-nascar-experience.html. Even though the car I drove had less power than the one that Hamlin took to the win at Daytona, it gave me a new appreciation for what these guys go thru in a race. The g forces both sideways and down (remember you are on a bank) are pretty incredible despite the car's weight and size. I can't imagine driving in a huge pack at the limit.

Awesome article and photos, Keith!

KeithCharvonia
KeithCharvonia

@Bridges I just read the article, very nice work! Sounds like an awesome experience, I'll have to do that if I ever get the chance.

petebrusch
petebrusch

Awesome story, Keith. I've followed NASCAR from birth, and been part of a local stock car team in NY since I could hold a wrench. Really great to see posts like this, I think it opens a lot of car guys up to the sport who would otherwise dismiss it. Hope to see you at some more races! 

awesomefearwave
awesomefearwave

as much as these pictures do capture the action of these races, i just never saw the point of an oval. it's people driving in one direction and it's just boring, like real boring. i like races with twists and turns, like ones in Formula Drift and Formula One. And those cars, especially the ones in Formula Drift, look more interesting and just look more fun to drive than nascar cars, with their brutally simple carb'd v8s, which i hate. it's the age of fuel injection. nascar should just move on to fuel injection if they want more viewers.

fabrik8
fabrik8

@awesomefearwave Fuel injection has been used in NASCAR Sprint Cup since 2012.  Oval track cars have very different load/RPM operating points than most other types of racing, which is why carbs still worked very well for a very long time.  Sprint Cup V8s may appear simple, but are some of the most highly developed race engines in the world, and are not based on production car engines like Formula Drift.

It is the age of fuel injection, NASCAR agrees with you.


Can we stop with the "NASCAR sucks, and here are some incorrect facts to tell you why!" theme already...?

Twitch_6
Twitch_6

@awesomefearwave, it's not hard to tell that you don't really watch much racing and are very misinformed.

The racecraft used in oval racing is completely different than what is used on a road course. If you don't know what you are looking at, I suppose it could be "boring", but it's not the racing's fault you don't understand. If you don't get the point of oval racing, you don't get the point of any racing.

You say you like Formula Drift, but 3 of FD's 7 tracks are ovals...

NASCAR races on road courses as well as ovals (ok it's only 2, but they're looking at adding more)

If you actually watch both F1 and NASCAR, there is no way in hell any sane person can say that F1 is currently more exciting than NASCAR. F1 is the most boring it has ever been. It's so aweful that Bernie Ecclestone, the CEO of CVC, the owners of F1, says he wouldn't pay a dime to take his family to watch F1. F1 is completely dominated by 1 team, is staring a 2-tier system right in the face, and features cars which are not capable of racing with each other. It's the biggest farce in motorsport.

I've never driven a NASCAR or an FD car, but I'm 99.999% sure the NASCAR would be a hell of a lot more fun to drive. No FD car is going to push 200mph.

The last bit about carbs and fuel injection shows exactly how ignorant you are. How does one hate something because it is not fuel injected?...even though that's not the case. And you really think there's other people out there specifically watching or not watching NASCAR based on the fuel delivery system?? That might be the most ludacris thing I've ever read lol.

jdmbucky
jdmbucky

@Twitch_6 well said my friend. Even if you dont think the racing is exciting, you have to at least have some respect for the type of engineering that goes on to make those monsters to left at speed. 

Paul B
Paul B

Thank you for this post. I was at the Daytona 500 and have been a Nascar fan my entire life. I enjoy all forms of racing. A blog post like this gets Nascar out to a larger audience. Very cool to see SpeedHunters foing an article about a form of racing that IMO gets a lot of hate because people just don't know enough about it or care to learn about.


So, thanks!

Yossarian
Yossarian

Never understood the NASCAR hate. Ever since I got my hands on Papyrus simulations, I have nothing but respect for the drivers and teams in this series. I can only imagine what it's like to drive such races in real life - it was crazy intense in the game! :).


And from a spectators point of view - lots of overtaking, never sure who's gonna win, lots of speed. Really can't understand the haters

worker bee
worker bee

I also understand that it takes a lot of skill to push one of those stock cars to the limit on an oval (I've known that for quite a while now). However I'm not a Nascar fan, simply because I'm just not a fan of oval racing. Attacking varied corners is what I live for when I'm driving so that's what I love to watch. If the track isn't twisty I lose interest very quickly. I like the cars though...

worker bee
worker bee

@Twitch_6 I agree with your point regarding high downforce racing. Generally speaking, when it comes to grip racing, lower level series are much more exciting than high level series.

Twitch_6
Twitch_6

Fair point, but in modern times, any series where the cars have significant downforce levels usually has really boring, processional races on twisty tracks because the cars can't follow each other (eg F1, WTCC, DTM...as good as Indycar was last year, the drivers were starting to complain about not being able to follow closely with the new aero package they're running now). GT3 levels of downforce and under still have good racing on twisty tracks, but anything higher than that really struggles.

Twitch_6
Twitch_6

If you like cars going fast, and you like racing, I don't see how you can hate on NASCAR. Ok, so Faux does a good job of fluffing it up with nonsense, the French family run it like the mafia, NASCAR officiating will leave you scratching your head almost once per race....but when you push all that bullshit aside, most of the drivers are mad talented at controlling those beasts, and once you understand what you're watching, the racing can be fuckin brilliant.

People like to make fun of NASCAR and how 'Murica it is....but there's a reason why everyone else has given up on high speed oval racing....it's because it's damn dangerous and they're scared.

Suzuccini
Suzuccini

Not many people understand how much tech is in these cars from aero to down to the weight of the shifter. Pretty wild stuff if u ask me. Love it.

hypodermic
hypodermic

@Suzuccini lol Areo, come on man, they have the aerodynamic properties of a brick. They only got EFI (Single point i might add) and digital dashes in the last couple of years.....Its so "Murica its almost a cliche 

hypodermic
hypodermic

Lol aero....have you seen the "wings"......

Twitch_6
Twitch_6

Aero of a brick my ass lol. Do some research on the prep work that goes into the bodies of the super speedway cars.

It would be cool to compare a Cup car with something like a V8SC in a wind tunnel. I'm willing to bet Cup cars have significantly less drag than any higher tier touring car out there right now.

wartzilla
wartzilla

@hypodermic No, they do not have a lot of Mickey Mouse computer bullshit in them, but there's a lot of engineering that goes into these cars.


Did you know that the piston speed of a NASCAR engine is the same as that of an F1 engine? No, you probably did not, or you wouldn't be here talking shit.

fabrik8
fabrik8

@hypodermic It's great to have opinions, but it's also good to base them on actual facts..

For example, the McLaren Electronics EFI system (yes, that McLaren) is a port injection (also called multipoint) setup, with a throttle body in the standard 4150 flange configuration.  If you look at a Sprint Cup engine, you'll see a 8 individual injectors, and two fuel rails, and a heat shielded crossover hose, and some other things that wouldn't be there with a single point fuel injection system.

Twitch_6
Twitch_6

whoa whoa whoa that's too many facts and numbers and stuff for one comment. You're only allowed one fact per comment, the rest must be urban myth and fairy dust.

John Evans
John Evans

@hypodermic Read an issue or 2 of Stock Car Engineering by the publishers of Race Car Engineering.  The level of sophistication in aero testing is astounding.   They use the Wind Shear 180 mph rolling ground plane wind tunnel - which btw if forbidden by F1 rules!

Fabrik8
Fabrik8

@Twitch_6 I'll drop a hint:  If you zoom in on pit road, you can spot hundreds of my colleagues and coworkers.  ;-)

hypodermic
hypodermic

@WindsorShatzkin @wartzilla @hypodermic lots of talk about piston speeds...a Honda S2000 (F20C) has very, very similar piston speeds to both F1 and Crashcar. WOW good work guys, you manage to get 130hp / Litre and pull 25+ M/s piston speeds. So does a 15 year old Honda....at least you tried.....

datruth
datruth

@hypodermic


How else do you think a 'wing' works? Is there some kind of other physicist wizardry that you know of to get a very particular (im talking in hundredths of a kilogram) amount of downforce at the back of a race car at 190mph?


Enlighten me how a single element wing like this isn't functional.

John Evans
John Evans

@hypodermic @WindsorShatzkin @wartzilla To be accurate, the Honda engine is amazing, with Titanium rod, 4 valves per cylinder and 2 nearly direct acting cams, but the piston speeds are not as high as in F1 - and nobody has been higher than NASCAR - ever.  This is significant.  NASCAR limits the intake air, which in turn limits power.  The engines are required by rules to be what they are - 2 valves per cylinder, pushrod valvetrain, no Ti rods, etc.  To dismiss in a juvenile way, the engineering achievements in the series is silly.  You may not like NASCAR, and probably never will, but that does not mean that the engineers in the paddock are a bunch of stupid hicks.  A good percentage come from Indcar and F1, and I would bet 100% of them have more education than you.  When you think you are smarter than everybody, there is a good chance that the opposite is true.


ae70
ae70

@John Evans @hypodermic @WindsorShatzkin @wartzilla


To Quote Mr Gene Haas, Someone who might just have a bit more of an educated opinion on superior F1 is...



"This isn’t North Carolina, I’ve come to realise that,” Haas said. “The complexity of the cars and the engines and what they’re doing with them is way beyond anything I ever expected. I think the technical aspects of these cars is fascinating, I think the engineers - especially the engineers that are working them and designing them - it’s a real challenge to get these cars to do that. So I think it’s a challenge on the one hand."


“On the other hand, I don’t think the fans really understand how complex it is. Even I didn’t know. I was kind of naive too about what goes in to make one of these cars run."


“A simple thing like brakes, you can’t just go out there and stop on your brakes. You have to basically heat up your brakes to the exact right temperature to get them to work and if they’re not at the right temperature they won’t work. If you don’t do that right you can actually overheat them and theres all sorts of catastrophic things that can happen if you don’t do it perfectly.”

Suzuccini
Suzuccini

Obviously u dont know how much work goes into these cars... and yes, even the 'aero' part of it.

KM3SolutionsKris
KM3SolutionsKris

@hypodermic NASCAR aero is incredibly high tech, you just don't understand the goals, or what you are looking at, so you laugh at it. The goal isn't "ultimate" aero - it's enforcement of a fair system that does a few things, keeps the cars able to race closely, able to draft, have enough downforce to stay on the track, but not so much as they stop being "loose."

Anyone that truly wants to understand NASCAR should start by hitting up a local sprint car/modified dirt track race, the tech on display there will blow your mind, as will the car control and outright brutality.

NASCAR isn't a leisurely drive turning left, it's a war against the car, the track, the other cars, the wind, etc.

All that said, I can't watch it. Don't enjoy it in the least - but at least I know what I don't enjoy, and I respect it. 

DanClock
DanClock

Great images and story.  Love the close up of the sigs on the stripes - very cool. I never really appreciated the serious banks on the turns until seeing these pics.  Well done, Keith

Fabrik8
Fabrik8

@DanClock Daytona is one of the highest banking angle tracks, only a few others have a similar or steeper angle.  It's pretty crazy to walk up a 31 degree section of track like at Daytona or a 33 degree track like Talladega.  Makes the 8-12 degree banking at Indy look very tame in comparison...

RBJKT
RBJKT moderator

SHIT I want so badly to get in the mix of a NASCAR race,. the sounds, the smell, the trance-like oval repetitions and the strategy in the racing. Pure gold. Nice work mate- looking forward to the follow ups

EricSeanDelaney
EricSeanDelaney

You need to come out to Mid Ohio or Road America for Nationwide (or is it Xfinity now?). Everyone is familiar with NASCAR at Watkins Glen or Sonoma, but Mid Ohio and Road America are awesome too. Two years ago was a high point in my life, because it was NASCAR in the rain, at a road course. It was a blast.


Or if you want something a little different, come out to Ohio for the Mudsummer Classic. It's the Camping World Truck Series on a .5 mile dirt track. Six, seven wide is common.


I have to attach a photo, because how often do you see a NASCAR actually turing right with water streaming off it mid race?

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