In no way is anyone or anything obligated to stick with a tradition no matter how fixed it is. For that matter, sometimes stepping away from a tradition can bring positive change and positive results. For that matter, stepping away from a tradition could lead to a larger appreciation for just how much that tradition truly meant to some. When the Southern 500 at Darlington was moved from Labor Day to being the penultimate race in 2004, there was a lot of negative feedback on the move, and when it returned as a Labor Day weekend event in 2015 it quickly became one of the most anticipated events of the season.
But when it comes to Daytona in July, there’s some things that just shouldn’t be changed regardless of intent or expectation.
Nothing against Chicagoland Speedway, but there’s just no way a July 4th tradition can ever fully be rooted in one of the sport’s youngest tracks. NASCAR is a sport with deep roots in American lore and our love for the American V8, and Daytona Beach will forever be linked to the sport because of that love. NASCAR was birthed in Daytona. Some of NASCAR’s defining moments occurred in Daytona. What better way for the sport to celebrate our nation’s independence than to go back to where it all began: The high banks of the World Center of Speed?
Florida in July is warm and beautiful. Anyone who is anyone can talk about the Coke Zero Sugar 400 or the Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 and get that picture in their head of a group of stock cars pouring onto the straightaway while the sun sets behind them, casting a deep blue/red hue across the sky. That’s the defining image of summer for NASCAR’s fans. Back in the day they’d even imagine Pepsi-Cola’s lettering on the catch fence or even the Pepsi globe right outside the fence; these days it’s the Coke Zero bottle-shaped trophy that was last held by Erik Jones.
That isn’t to say nothing good will come of the race as the regular season finale; in a way, the logic does make sense. Begin and end the regular season at Daytona; the approach is understandable. It’ll still be a big event. There will still be some pressure to perform. There will still be reason to revere the circuit’s return to Daytona. The racing will still be heated.
But the Playoffs/Chase format is not NASCAR’s biggest accomplishment. If anything, it pales in comparison to the legacy and impact that the Daytona International Speedway has left on the sport. Daytona and the July event had been around for years before the advent of the Playoff system, and to use Daytona as the ending of the regular season is an underwhelming idea. Daytona doesn’t need to be brought down by extra gimmicks. Daytona and all of it’s glory needs to be left to be as it is on the schedule.
Once again, this is all speculation. I could be wrong – I hope I’m wrong. This may turn into something else that’s nothing short of amazing. But the thing is, when we fell in love with NASCAR, the July event at Daytona became the epitome of summer for us. It was supposed to be fun in the summer sun, cooled down by a soft drink (Pepsi, Coke Zero Sugar…does it matter at this point?). It was supposed to be 40 of the world’s greatest drivers racing down the Superstretch while the sun faded into the July night. It was supposed to be a reminder of why we love our country and why we love the sport.
Why change that?