Saturday, February 27, 2021

Race Cars, Race Track, Oh My.....

Having two of our grandsons visit with us in Florida has been a real joy. They helped select a few excursions to do while they were here, with a few days of rest (and the pool) in between. So as you might tell from the title, two of our activities had to do with race cars. The first one was a visit to the Don Garlits Drag Racing Museum in Ocala. The name is probably only familiar to us old folks and drag racing enthusiasts. "Big Daddy" Don Garlits was one of THE names in Top Fuel drag racing. He raced against the likes of Don Prudhomme , Connie Kalitta, and Shirley Muldowney. Beginning back in the 1960's these super stars raced in those long skinny dragsters with little front wheels and huge motors. Top Fuel dragsters can run one-quarter mile in about 5 seconds at between 200 and 300 miles per hour.

The museum is a collection of Don's drag cars from his original from 1957 to the most modern dragsters. It also includes many of the dragsters that he raced against. It was amazing to see the progression of technology in these race cars. They got very much longer, the drag slicks got much bigger and wider, and the motors got more and more complicated. The displays are all very well documented and include lots of photos. In 1987, Don had his Swamp Rat 30 exhibited in the Smithsonian Institution.

This dragster ran 272 miles per hour. A second building at the museum was just as interesting. It had a huge collection of old cars in pristine condition. The collection included 1909 Buicks, lots of 1930's Fords, including several of my favorite 1932 coupes. My 'if money is no object" car would definitely be a "lead sled". These are the hot rods built out of the 1949 through 1951 Mercury. Sitting side by side was a stock 1950 Merc and a lead sled hot rod. One thing that stuck me was the immaculate paint on all of the cars in the exhibit. While JJ was mostly bored by this museum, Noah clearly had a great time checking out all of the cars in the museum.

After a day of rest, we ran the hour long drive from Silver Springs to Daytona Beach. This drive goes right through the middle of the Ocala National Forest. The visit to Daytona was very busy. It is where I went to college in the late 60's, so we had the obligatory drive through the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University campus. There were many very impressive buildings and a long line of school-owned airplanes on the flight line. While today's campus might be very impressive, it is not at all what the school looked like when I attended. The dorm in 1966 was a retired bachelor officers quarters (BOQ) building from the WWII days. And several of the classroom buildings were also from the days when the Daytona Beach airport was used by the US Navy from pilot training. The student enrollment in 1966 was about 2,000 students. Today the Daytona campus has over 7,000 students.

After the campus drive, we did the guided tour of Daytona International Speedway. This one hour tour drives around the outside of turns 3 and 4 and then jumps onto the actual race surface at the end of the back straight. Seeing the 31-degree banking in person is much more impressive than it seems on TV. The outside wall just towers over the tour tram. The first stop was at the start/finish line. There the banking is only 18-degrees. We were able to exit the tram and walk right up to the inside wall. While walking up was work, walking back down the incline to the tram was very difficult. Basically, you had to take baby steps. The tour guide gave us way more information about the speedway than any one person could remember. In 2013, the speedway undertook a $400 million upgrade. Today, the stands will hold 101,000 fans and there are some very impressive facilities to move those fans into and out of the facility. I attended several Daytona 500 races while I was in college. I was fortunate to be watching from the infield. Today, that infield is filled with garages and RV parks which are all filled to capacity during races. Overall, the tour was very much worth the $20 per person.

Last on our agenda was a drive down the beach. The original Daytona car races were actually run on the beach. The hard packed sand makes a great driving surface. When I was in school there, everyone spending the day at the beach actually drove their car out there and parked for the day. Today, you have to pay $20 to drive your car on the beach. So we payed the price and drove down the beach for a mile or so. Now the boys can say that they did it.

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