OLSON: The Daytona 12

Kevin Olson
Kevin Olson

I know this may be hard to believe, but I don’t always watch the whole day of NASCAR like the rest of the free world. I don’t want to sound unpatriotic, but many times I will just watch the start and then the last 10 laps of the race.

I am ashamed to admit this. However, I take exception to this rule each year when it is time for the Daytona 500 and there is no “boogity-boogity,” and will sit and watch the whole race. It always seems to be an exciting event.

This year I was in Las Vegas to attend the country’s biggest convention and speakers for Gamblers Anonymous on the week Daytona ran.

Each year I am paid to attend the Gamblers Anonymous convention and sit on stage as a visual aide to the guest speakers who are former gambling addicts.

I don’t have to say a word, just sit there and drink free drinks, sweat, wring my hands, and occasionally yell out random numbers.

This is a great gig for me and I have been told my performance on stage is very effective. It’s a lot like those Scared Straight shows where the kids are so scared of the examples they show that they never touch drugs or commit any crimes again.

So, I have that going for me, along with my own business interests back in the Midwest.

After this year’s convention, I strolled down to the sports betting parlor at the Palms Motel and decided to make this year’s Daytona 500 a little more interesting by betting on one of the drivers.

My gambling advisor and strategy engineer on my midget ride, (Donnie Kleven’s First Supply/Lamers No. 9) Paul Tyler (also Linda Thompson, of Elvis fame’s, cousin), and I sat down and spent the majority of the day computing race facts and figures from previous 500s and probabilities of who was the best choice to win this race.

After hours of deliberations, Paul decided to take Ryan Blaney at 20-to-one and I went with my gut and did a write-in for Carl Long, as he was not listed on the original sheet so I knew the odds would be very high.

So, with our bet receipts in hand, we headed back to the condominium that I unbelievably got for free (as I went to a presentation where all I had to do was agree to rent it sometime in the future, if I heard them right).

The following morning, I couldn’t wait for the race to begin and not miss a single lap of this exciting six-hour broadcast. I took some pills to calm my nerves, as I knew the excitement of pack and team racing could cause heart problems if I got overexcited.

Unfortunately, after three hours of waiting, it was rain-delayed and I had to wait until the following day for the race to be run. After a night of casino hopping downtown and standing around the blackjack tables pretending that I was taking a break from playing so I could get the free drinks, we called it a night to get ready for the 500 the next morning.

Monday came and the sky was clear in Daytona, and we were ready to see the Great American Race. I only hoped that Carl got a good night’s sleep and would make me a wealthy man in about six hours.

I missed the driver introductions and asked Paul if Ryan and Carl looked rested, but he said he didn’t see Carl at all. I think they did this deliberately to keep the odds down on him, so I wasn’t too concerned.

When the green flag dropped it was pandemonium from the very first lap, as I watched the entire field go totally crazy passing each other and guys from the back even moved to the front. I was on my feet, as I had never seen this unique strategy of the front half of the field racing to get to the back to realign themselves with their teammates.

As the front half worked their way back in three laps, I saw another phenomenon that I have never seen before. There was no front to the pack, only everyone in the rear.

I watched in amazement as once they got to the rear all the drivers were able to find all the others in the field running the same make and engines to form a line and run together.

And, finally, when all the teams found each of their manufacturers’ teammates, they had three different groups with all 42 cars in line with their respective manufacturers of Ford, Chevy and Toyota. (I thought it was the Great American Race, so how did Toyota sneak in there?)

At 50 laps, I was so exhausted from the excitement. The precision in line-running, with absolutely no passing in any of the three lines of cars and the ability it took to not only have  no one pass within their own groups, but also groups not passing the other groups, was almost too much to handle.

The fans were all on their feet; I saw a lot who just were physically drained from this almost Blue Angels-style of driving. I also noticed that some couldn’t do it any longer and were heading straight for the exits.

I watched with fascination as they pitted for stage one (which I don’t think we have in midget racing yet). What a great idea. It keeps anyone from having to wear out their car by running hard, since any lead you have is wiped out when everyone has a mandatory stop at each stage.

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