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The Flags are Waving in Daytona Beach

Gentlemen, start your engines and ladies, grab your beach bag. It's NASCAR time in Daytona Beach, Florida. 2006 is already wooing a track full of die-hard race car drivers and fans are pulling up trackside to get a glimpse of the action. Make sure you're there in 2006 for non-stop excitement at every turn on the track! The season begins with the forty-fourth Rolex 24 which kicks off the 2006 Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series on the weekend of January 26-29. Considered one of the most prestigious endurance races, the entry list features 73 entries which will exceed the 2005 entry list by eleven cars.

Benny Parsons will act as the Grand Marshall for this event. On February 11, 2006, the Budweiser Shootout will start their 'run' followed by the Daytona 500 Pole Qualifying run. The Shootout represents the beginning of Speed Week at Daytona, ending with the Daytona 500. On February 18, the Hershey's Kissable kicks off the NASCAR Busch Series for 2006.

In between are truck races and other events to keep every race fan in total bliss. On February 19, Daytona Beach hosts the Daytona 500, one of the great American traditions in NASCAR racing. The race begins at 2 p.m. Eastern and runs for 500 laps on the world-famous track.

Of course, all the big names will be entered in the race, including Jeff Gordon, Tony Steward and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. This year holds a special treat because Bill Elliot has come out of retirement to return for this race. Elliot left full-time racing in 2003, only running a few races in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series. Of course, Dale Jr.

is a favorite in this race. His father, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. died in a freak accident during the Daytona 500 in the 2001 race. Since its beginning in 1959, the Daytona 500 has been one of the most popular races ever held. The television ratings for this event indicate that it is one of the most-watched sports events, surpassing even the Super Bowl! As the first race of the Nextel Cup Series (in addition to being the first biggest race of the year), the fan's race to obtain tickets is phenomenal. The Daytona 500 is a direct offshoot of a race once held on the sands of Daytona Beach.

After the 1959 opening of the Daytona International Speedway, the race as we know it continues to grow. That very first Daytona 500 was won by Lee Petty, father of Richard Petty. The win was most interesting because Johnny Beauchamp was initially announced as the winner after both Petty and Beauchamp lapped Joe Weatherly on the final lap. Three days later, after reviewing photographs and video of the finish, the call was overthrown and Petty was announced as the official winner of that first Daytona 500. His son, Richard, has won the Daytona 500 seven times during his career and holds the record for the most wins for this particular racing event.

The qualifying for the Daytona 500 is unique in that teams must race their way into the field instead of taking qualifying laps. The first row is set through one round of qualifying that usually occurs one week in advance of the actual race. The remainder of the field is established by qualifying races of 150 miles. During 2004 and before, the qualifying races were 125 miles.

After the Daytona 500, Wisk Presents the Daytona 500 After-Party which includes a dinner buffet, complimentary soft drinks, a cash bar, live entertainment and much, much more. You must purchase advance tickets to attend this party. ConAgra hosts the Monday morning Champion's Breakfast event which features car induction festivities, a buffet breakfast, and more. This event also requires advance purchase of a ticket.

The Champion's Breakfast marks the official end of Speed Week at Daytona. Access to the Daytona International Speedway is simple and easy from the north and south via Interstate-95 which lies within two miles of the race track. Interstate-4 provides access from the west while U.S. Highway 1 provides a scenic drive from the north and south. While visiting Daytona Beach, you'll want to take a drive along the white sand beaches, one of the only remaining beaches in Florida that permit driving on the sand.

These beautiful beaches extend for miles and provide a unique experience for anyone who has never had the joy of driving alongside the Atlantic Ocean. Just don't leave your car parked on the sand too close to the water at low tide. Every week, cars must be towed onto shore when the high tide floods them. During Speed Week, accommodations can be hard to find unless you have made reservations well in advance. Many race fans book reservations and purchase their race tickets a full year in advance.

The ocean-front hotels, of course, fill up first as do those closest to the Speedway. For those who desire very affordable housing for the week, nearby towns offer plenty of accommodations within one-half hour's drive from the track. Even Orlando with all its plush hotels is only forty-five minutes away on Interstate-4. Camping is a popular solution to the accommodations problem during Speed Week. There are numerous campgrounds in the area within a few miles of the race track and the cost of renting a campsite for the week is very affordable.

Because of Central Florida's mild weather, camping poses a viable solution. The nights may require a few blankets, however, but most of the daytime temperatures are quite comfortable. Many of the hard-core race enthusiasts bring campers, vans and motor homes, purchasing infield tickets and parking for the entire week.

Every evening, cookouts in the infield bring the smells of steaks, hot dogs and hamburgers to the air. Those gathered in the infield party with others from all over the country both day and night, having a thoroughly great time while enjoying the races. If you have never been to a Daytona 500 to hear those famous words, "Gentlemen, start your engines", you will never forget the experience. Not only will you enjoy the races, but the entire city of Daytona Beach will provide memories for years to come.


By: F.R. Penn

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