NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Returns To Site Of Track That Put It On The Map
Think fast … Who was the first and only driver in NASCAR history to start a mass, on-track autograph session in the middle of a race?
Here’s a clue … it happened in the 2000 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona International Speedway, the inaugural Daytona race for the series celebrating its 15th anniversary this season.
And what a great ride that decade-and-a-half has been for the NASCAR division that has graduated from an almost entirely short-track only schedule to the biggest stage in all of stock car racing – Daytona.
When the trucks take the green flag for the Feb. 13 NextEra Energy Resources 250 (8 p.m. ET on SPEED, NCWTS Setup hosted by Krista Voda at 7:30 p.m. ET) to embark on the new season, they have big shoes to fill, following up a 2008 season that saw the tightest championship battle in Truck Series history, in addition to holding the distinction as the most-watched season since the series moved to SPEED in 2003. Last year’s season on SPEED was the highest-rated ever, averaging a .80 Nielsen Rating and 585,000 households.
Many credit the addition of Daytona to the Truck schedule with elevating the series to the prominence and popularity it currently enjoys.
"When the Truck Series was a fledgling series, it was always the Tucsons, the Bakersfields, the short tracks, and then we got to the bigger places," driver Brendan Gaughan said. "But you knew it had gained national legitimacy on the national touring scale when we were allowed to go to Daytona. That, in NASCAR terms, tells you that you are the ‘real deal.’"
"After we raced at Daytona, it took the Truck Series not to the next level but up about six levels," said driver David Starr. "Being able to go to Daytona and race there has done everything for this series. We haven’t seen the end of it -- the climb is about halfway. The series is just growing and growing and Daytona is a big part of it."
"It seems like just yesterday we were down there for the first race, actually the first-ever test, and it got everyone pretty amp’d up," said driver Terry Cook, who holds the record for most consecutive Truck starts. "When they finally put Daytona on the schedule, it was the final crowning jewel for the Truck Series because it says ‘we made it’ and we proved it."
There’s no denying the quality of exhilarating, door-to-door action the Truck Series brings to Daytona.
"I remember seeing a couple of the first races there and they were awesome to watch," said Johnny Benson, 2008 NCWTS champion. "It’s some of the best racing I’ve ever seen. Every year we go there, you don’t think the next race can be as good as the last one but yet it is every year."
The Truck Series races at the "World Center of Racing" have served as a model even for the highly prestigious and more prominent NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
"Daytona-style racing for the Truck Series was a lot of the design style they used to build the current Car of Tomorrow for the Cup Series," Cook said. "They realized, ‘Wow, what a great race these trucks put on. They punch a large hole in the air, the roofs are extremely high and the windshields are pretty much straight up.’ So, they took a lot of that same stuff, based on what they saw at Daytona in the trucks, and applied it to the COT."
And if you’re stumped on the question a few graphs up – the answer is Mike Wallace, who was also the race winner that day. Wallace had led much of the race and was running second at the time of the infamous Geoffrey Bodine crash and ensuing lengthy red flag period, and had parked his truck, along with several others, on the short chute off Turn Four.
"We drivers had sat around for a while leaning against the wall, and a bunch of fans up against the fence started screaming, ‘Come sign our autographs,’" Wallace reflected. "I turned around, walked up there and waved at some of the other guys to join me, and about seven or eight of us started signing autographs for them. I heard from a lot of people that it made a big impact on a lot of people from the fans to the NASCAR officials.
"I’m pretty sure it has never happened before or since," he continued. "It was rewarding to me as a driver because the response was incredible. People were cheering and hollering and were so appreciative."
From the impromptu autograph session to the spectacular racing and Bodine’s accident the first year, the Trucks have brought something special to Daytona and to the sport as a whole.
"The Truck Series has given NASCAR more credibility and made it look awfully smart," said Mike Skinner, 1995 NCWTS champion. "Bill France Jr. really wrapped his arms around the series back in the mid-‘90s and said, ‘Hey, we need to make this work’ and he pulled it off. The Truck Series took guys like me, Hornaday, Sprague, Crawford and several others who just needed a jumpstart and helped us get going and get our names out there more. The series has just been great for NASCAR as a whole."
"The Truck Series has served as an opportunity for young drivers to gain experience competing at a professional NASCAR-sanctioned level," said Ron Hornaday Jr., runner-up in the 2008 NCWTS championship. "It gives them the chance to practice pit stops and compete on radial tires. When NASCAR added the series in '95, it was a win for everyone."
So, when the trucks hit the high banks of Daytona Feb. 13 for the 10th annual race, drivers will be clawing for their shot at a special notch on their belts.
"Every driver wants to win at Daytona," said SPEED reporter Ray Dunlap. "It’s awe-inspiring to drive through the tunnel and it still affects me even after 20 years. If a driver has accomplished a lot in his career but didn’t win at Daytona, he’d be highly disappointed. Daytona is the one race everyone wants on their resume and winning at Daytona is great in any division, especially one as competitive as the Truck Series."