NASCAR

Weather can't deter die-hard fans

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Rea White

Rea White has been covering NASCAR full time since 1998. She has won awards from press agencies in Alabama and North Carolina and formerly served as president of the National Motorsports Press Association. Follow her on Twitter.

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.

Sure, Daytona is different on Monday. But don’t ever doubt die-hard fans will continue to make their presence known.

daytona 500 action

IT'S A BLUR

See the best photos from the 2012 Daytona 500:

The lively party atmosphere that once marked the campground settled into a quieter and more peaceful background, particularly in the more comfortable environs of the motor home lots. The scene was more often interrupted by the quiet hum of motor homes than the scattered calls for one’s favored driver.

This was Daytona on Monday — the first time the 500 has ever been run on that day.

Mud filled spots where campers used to be. What once was a tightly packed group of fans and friends forging bonds over racing stories became home to scattered pockets of campers. These people battened down for the duration, spent Sunday and then Monday hoping that the rain would end and the racing could begin.

These are the fans who make NASCAR what it is.

In the tent campground, fans who had been fighting to stay warm and dry for days remained a lively bunch, with bars and scaffolding built into their personal areas. And while some left, those remaining saw that simply as a way to get closer to the fencing around the track and, therefore, closer to the action.

For the most part, the ones who remained through the rain delays planned to stay even if things hadn't gone off as planned Monday night.

Dewey Griffin of Lake County, Fla., had been on site since before Saturday’s Budweiser Shootout. He’s been camping in the same spot for 16 years.

“We will still be here until they throw us out,” he said with a gentle laugh.

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ALL-STAR RACE

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Dave Neuman, of Kokomo, Ind., and Terry Neuman, of Ocala, Fla., celebrated Dave’s birthday here last Friday. It’s their fourth year of camping in the motor home lot. They round out the season by attending the annual races at Homestead-Miami.

Sunday, they waited out part of the day in the grandstands, then made the timely decision to return to the motor home — right before the final drenching shower came through and ended the chance to run the race.

“We got in there and then decided to come out here and wait it out, which was the right call,” Dave Neuman said. “And just as we got ready to go back in, it opened up again, so timing was everything.”

They built in an extra day, just in case — a traditional move that they have never had to capitalize on before this week.

Who were they pulling for in the race? Terry, who is retired from the Navy, said Mark Martin, but Dave quickly pointed out that the good thing about NASCAR fans is that they can change allegiance over the years.

“I think that’s the whole thing about NASCAR; you might have your favorite, but then you have the coming and going,” he said. “So you start rooting for somebody or rooting against them.”

Across the way sat Tracy Smith and Kendall Smith from Spartanburg, SC, and Bob and Maryann Hastings from Buffalo, NY.

As Kendall put it, “Yesterday we just slopped around in the water.” They enjoyed some quiet time Monday afternoon before things took off once more.

Over in another campground, things were a bit more active.

A huge set of flag stands whipped in the wind as a man who gave only his first name offered a bar for those in the infield. Sunday night, he said, fans gathered in his area to dance and have fun. A bar table signed by hundreds attested to the crowd that had been visiting his area. The impressive site has been a part of the Daytona infield, he said, since 1979.

Joyce and Tom Taylor, of Tampa, Fla., sat farther back, taking in the action, while Balinda Lehan and Lisa Mathes sat with their dogs under a tent canopy nearby.

The Taylors found the upside of the less attended campgrounds, spotting things that they had not previously been able to see in the now more open area.

“I went around the fence to see how many people have left.  . . . I didn’t know they had a store until yesterday because now that people are gone, you can see,” Joyce said.

Another benefit they found? Hot showers.

“That was great,” Joyce said.

“Nothing like a hot shower after a couple of days of rain,” Tom said.

Would they stay through the night if they needed to?

“We probably would; we’ve made it this far,” Tom said.

FAMILY TIES

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Lehan and Mathes, of Greeneville, Tenn., were making the most of their first Daytona 500.

Sitting out in folding chairs with their dogs, Cedar and Tobie, they said they’d been at the track since Saturday. Surprised by the drop in temperature for the weekend, they said they spent Sunday just trying to stay dry.

“Waited out here yesterday until probably 4 o’clock maybe . . . went out to the Harley shop just to kill a little time, see what was going to happen,” Mathes said. “We heard the blowers were back on the track, so we came back and as soon as we got back here, it started raining. So we celebrated and went out and ate crab legs.”

And while the experience has been different from what they expected — they said it was the wind, not rain, from the weekend that has been tough on the campers and that “there’s a little bit of moisture in the tent” — they are still having fun.

“We’ve had a good time and we’re coming again,” Mathes said.

Playing football in the center of the infield camping area were a group of native Floridians. Kyle Hayes of Merritt Island, George Alger and Leah Dash of Palm Beach, and Charles Forbes and Joanie Renwick from Castlebury said the scaffolding and tent setup in their area had been much more impressive before tonight.

They are among those die-hard fans willing to brave the elements in order to see their favorite driver race here — in most of this group’s case, that would be Jeff Gordon, though they gave a nod to Dale Earnhardt Jr. as well.

They have been passing the time heading to the beach and enjoying life in the infield. But it hasn’t all been entirely pleasant.

“It was just that it was wet and cold,” Dash said. “We slept in the car because it was too cold in the tent.”

Still, despite the rain and the wind and the uncertainty of what Mother Nature did to the valiant efforts to get this race completed Monday, these remain die-hard fans.

This is how Daytona looked on a rain-delayed extra day at the track Monday. 

“I’ve been on the infield every year except for four since 1977,” Forbes said. “Oh, we’re staying. We’re here.”

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