The Daytona 500 is more than just a race

I always smile when one of those ESPN “More than a game” commercials dances across my television screen. The idea that sports mean so much more than the crack of a bat or kick of a ball is not exclusive to me, but you’ll find no bigger proponent of this theory and it all harkens back to a February night in 2014.

The catalyst for this extraordinary moment in my young life is, unfortunately, a sad one. Twelve days before the running of the 2014 Daytona 500, my grandmother passed away. A Proverbs 31 woman through and through, we all grieved, though being just shy of 8 years old at the time, I’m not sure I understood what grief was or exactly how to process it. Regardless of my family’s situation, though, there I was, parked in front of my television on February 23, 2014, ready to kick off the new NASCAR season along with millions of other fans. A diehard Dale Jr. fan, I knew how good he always was at the superspeedways, and I waited with my fellow fans as the race endured an excruciating rain delay.

With school out the next day in observance of Presidents’ Day, my mom graciously allowed me to stay up into the wee hours of the morning to watch Dale Earnhardt Jr. take the checkered flag in front of Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin.

I think I can confidently say that I am more “into” my faith now than I have ever been, but no spiritual or religious moment for me will ever compare to that special feeling as I watched Dale Jr.’s Chevy, with a piece of trash stuck to the grill, cross the line first. In a time of grief for myself and my family, my favorite driver had brought healing. I could’ve sworn my grandmother was in the passenger seat of Jr.’s car in those final few laps, somehow keeping his temperature gauges from spiking with a piece of plastic stuck to the car, willing him to victory as a seven-year-old kid in Arkansas went absolutely bonkers. If Bill France had a special relationship with The Man Upstairs, he would have allowed my grandmother into the Daytona 500 pew, helping her guide Jr. to Victory Lane. It was the first win for Jr. since I became both a fan of NASCAR and Jr. himself in 2013, making it even more special.

Whenever people ask me why I sit in front of a microphone or document and devote so much time to covering this sport, I always tell them that my goal is to give back, in whatever way possible, to a sport that has given me so much more than I could’ve ever imagined. Entertainment, sure, but it’s also helped me get jobs, meet incredible people, and given me a goal to reach for as I look to college and beyond. Without this insane, wonderful, mess of a sport, I simply wouldn’t be who I am.

On February 19, I will walk through those hallowed Daytona gates as a fan for the first time, nearly a decade after Dale Jr.’s 2014 triumph, and I don’t doubt that my grandmother will be on my shoulder as I walk to my seat, which may as well be a seat in Heaven next to Bill France. If you see me walking through the concourse on Monday, I’ll likely have some tears leaking out of my eyes, which will finally be seeing one of my favorite places in the world in the flesh.

We all have our reasons for watching common men do uncommon things for 38 weeks out of the year, but no matter what yours is, just remember; it’s always more than just a race.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of

Samuel Stubbs
Samuel Stubbs
Hailing from the same neck of the woods as NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin, Samuel is the co-host of The Below The Yellow Line Podcast, which can be found on YouTube @BelowTheYellowLine. Guests such as Mario Andretti, Larry McReynolds, 23XI Racing President Steve Lauletta, Legacy Motor Club Executive Joseph Cohen, and SMI Chief Operating Officer Mike Burch have been interviewed on his show. Samuel is new to the team at Speedway Media, and hopes to pursue a degree & career in broadcast journalism.


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