A little more than four decades ago, Big Bill France had a vision. But he was the only one.
As France stood alongside Volusia Avenue and looked over nearly 400 acres of western Daytona Beach swampland, when he tilted his head just right and squinted his eyes, he could see tons of asphalt in the form of a 2.5-mile racetrack. It would be the newest, biggest, and fastest thing to hit auto racing since they put down bricks in Indianapolis nearly a half century earlier.
Long before Kevin Costner made a household phrase out of "build it and they will come," France built it. It took more than a year of 12-hour days and seven-day weeks, and along the way it took plenty of begging, borrowing, arm-twisting, and backroom deals to pay for all those tools and all that manpower. But by the end of 1958, Big Bill had his track.
He built it, and beginning in February 1959, they did come. It started as a curiosity-everyone wanted to see that asphalt monster that both awed and scared so many drivers. It started with 18,000 seats, and through the years, the seating capacity and the attention grew a little here and there, until the '80s, when it began expanding at the rate of a Nebraska offensive lineman.
Today, the Daytona International Speedway houses 160,000 permanent seats, which run the length of the frontstretch and nearly the entire length of the backstretch. Another 40,000 or so can still find room in the infield.
When February rolls around in Daytona, they don't just come anymore-they invade. They cast a blanket over Daytona Beach like the humidity of July and the lovebugs of October. Planes, trains, and automobiles, sure, but they also come by bus, Harley, camper, and boat (that would be Felix Sabates' seagoing crew which annually brings down his floating hotel).
For so many of those that make the trip, NASCAR racing is life. And if NASCAR is life, February in Daytona is their oxygen. You don't do racin' if you don't do Daytona.
Greg Evans, a South Carolina transplant orginally from Ohio, spends thousands of dollars to watch NASCAR races. And that's just February in Daytona. There are thousands more spent on another dozen or so races throughout the season, which he attends with his wife and two kids.
"I tell my wife, 'I don't have any vices. I don't chase women, I don't do drugs or alcohol ... all I do is racing,'" says Evans. "But I do spend quite a bit of money on racing."
By the standards of the modern NASCAR pilgrim, Evans does it "the right way." He travels by RV. He packs wife Lori, son Nicholas, 9, daughter Kaitlyn, 7, and a full supply of Dale Earnhardt T-shirts (for Dad) and Jeff Gordon shirts (for his daughter, of course) for most of NASCAR's stops in the Southeast-Rockingham, Darlington, Charlotte, Atlanta, Talladega, and, of course, Daytona ("It's still the 'Super Bowl' of Stock car racing," he says).
"There are certain things you enjoy and have a passion for," says Evans, a pharmaceutical sales director. "I was born and raised in Ohio, and I had no knowledge of Winston Cup racing when I lived there. When I got down here, I caught the bug. There's nothing I'd rather do. And the more I go, the more I'm attracted to it."