DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.
Who could ever forget the Super Bowl when Terry Bradshaw disappeared into a sinkhole at the 40-yard line of the old Orange Bowl, leaving former National Football League commissioner Pete Rozelle having to explain the situation?
And who could forget when Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was washed away when heavy rain in Super Bowl XLI turned the field into a quagmire in 2007?
Well, neither of those actually happened although as a Colts fan who actually was at Super Bowl XLIV, their loss was like watching the Hindenburg go down in flames. In fact at one point, I cried out, “Oh, the humanity!!!”
But the so-called “Super Bowl of Auto Racing” — the Daytona 500 — was left with a public relations disaster of epic proportions that left many shouting, “Oh, the pothole!!!!!”
If the 1979 Daytona 500 launched NASCAR on its spectacular rise to prominence because of “The Perfect Storm” then Sunday’s 52nd Daytona 500 was ruined by “The Imperfect Pavement.”
There is absolutely no way to properly discuss the public relations nightmare that needs to be addressed because of a 9-by-15-by-2-inch pothole located between turns one and two that tarnished an otherwise spectacular race.
For the millions watching at home, Fox came on the air at noon and didn’t sign off until 8 p.m. And for the estimated crowd of 180,000 at Daytona Int’l Speedway that began entering the gates at 6 a.m. and are used to sitting through lengthy rain delays, there was no acceptable reason that was going to ease the frustration.
Thousands of dollars were spent and countless hours were traveled from all corners of the country and the world by these brave fans to watch what they consider auto racing’s Super Bowl. And while the racing was spectacular at times with 52 lead changes among 21 different drivers, the 2 hours and 24 minutes of combined time from two red flag periods that stopped the race was as excruciating as watching “Up With People” perform the halftime show at the old Super Bowls of the 1970s.
Actually, that’s the last time the track surface at Daytona Int’l Speedway was repaved —1978 in fact. And after 32 years of racing, this surface has plenty of history but is beginning to break apart like U.S. 6 in northern Indiana and Ohio.
Let’s face it — at that point, the track was unsafe. Large chunks of rock were being projected back at the cars, which could have caused serious damage. When John Andretti crashed into the second turn wall for apparently no reason on lap 117, it was obvious that something was amiss because all but one of the previous incidents happened on the same area of the race track.
But with bright sunshine and temperatures that were near 60 degrees, the fans were dumbstruck when they saw the cars brought down pit road and parked for the first red flag. When the race was stopped for 1 hour, 40 minutes and 45 seconds, the crowd had grown restless.
Track officials believed the repairs would work, but it was like any typical government project as 180,000 people stood around and watched three men work.
So, it was back to racing and the drama that was about to reach a crescendo with the conclusion of the most anticipated NASCAR race of the season.
But that was before the “Pothole that Swallowed the Daytona 500” was back and this year’s race had turned into a Stephen King novel.
When Goodyear had the infamous “Tire Debacle” at the 2008 AllState 400 at the Brickyard, Indianapolis Motor Speedway suffered the damage of that public relations disaster as thousands and thousands of fans did not purchase tickets to the 2009 Brickyard 400.
On Sunday, this happened at NASCAR’s “Home Office” — Daytona Int’l Speedway, located across the street from NASCAR headquarters. But will the same retribution be directed at this race?
NASCAR’s public relations machine will quickly change the agenda and in a short period of time, the “Pothole” will be forgotten as new storylines and controversies emerge. That is why NASCAR is so successful and other racing series’ are not.
In the grand scheme, nobody was hurt, but a whole lot of people feel cheated.