There aren’t many people who have been to the majority of the nearly 60 Daytona 500 events since 1959. However, the one’s that have been to NASCAR‘s elusive event know what the experience is truly all about.
This year, the Daytona International Speedway announced that there will be several renovations done to the 2.5 mile super speedway in Daytona Beach, FL. The project, known as Daytona Rising, has already started thanks to the $400 million from the International Speedway Corporation, Daytona’s parent company. The track wanted to do something different, and that they did.
The “Fans of Steel” project helped select 20 long time Daytona ticket holders (along with a guest of their choice) to be a standing part of the track for the future, literally. These select fans had the opportunity to sign a piece of steel that will be a part of the track’s new structuring.
One fan has been there through it all. One year, he and his brother even battled through a snow storm just to get to see the annual Daytona 500. Mike “David” Roberts has been to nearly every single Daytona 500. He was there for the first (or second) race in the track’s history. He isn’t too sure considering he was a young lad at the time.
“We were with my father at the time, and I don’t remember. If not, it was the second race at the track,” Roberts said as he was in attendance with his brother who was there with him through it all. “There have been years in the past where we were trying to get down here (Daytona) when we commuted through the snow and bad weather. In Virginia one time, the trees were down, the power was down and we were on route 301 trying to get to route 95.”
Over time, he’s been able to follow the sport without losing touch of his inner racer. Growing up, his father owned a body shop, and was the one who started taking him the Daytona 500 which became a tradition he never lost touch with.
“It was the only time out of the year that he and I used to put everything aside and go to the race. Most of the time, we would go to the races and drive straight back. My father had a body shop up in Washington D.C., and he just demanded that my brother get back up there to the shop. So, it has been hard. That was our time to be together. That weekend, Daytona comes, we put down the hammers and we get in the car/truck and head to Daytona.”
It was truly difficult for Roberts to only see his brother once a year, but the new experience of being involved within the track’s future is probably one of the most important he’s been involved within throughout his lifetime. However, his favorite experience throughout all of the Daytona 500′s he has gone to was meeting Richard Petty. Meeting “The King” at a local breakfast joint where he had the chance to eat with the NASCAR legend. Does it get any more interesting than that?
Well, for Roberts and his brother, it does. The one part of the sport that amazes Roberts the most is how far the teams have come over the past 55 years.
“All of the rules that NASCAR has made, they figure out how to make those cars faster and faster. I can remember days back when I used to go `wow’ there’s going to be 20,000 people at Daytona International Speedway. Now, it can fit over 130,000 people there. I think that just speaks for itself for how NASCAR has grown. It’s definitely a fan’s sport.”
Roberts plans on going to the speedway until he’s well into his elder years. The tradition of going to the most elusive speedway in the world has brought he and his brother closer.
“It’s the fun of the race, the fans, just the whole thing. The whole town and city of Daytona has grown and developed because of Daytona International Speedway. The thrill of those cars and hearing `gentleman start your engines’ is amazing. People ask me why I go to Daytona every year, that’s a hard trip. I hope I never have to miss a race. If I’m 90-years old, I hope to still have a seat in the grandstands and watch the race.”
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.