linked post, I was at the Daytona 500 on 2/18/01, the only time I've been to Daytona -- in fact, the only time I've been to Florida. My brother and I had talked about going to Daytona and when he was given a couple of tickets, we decided to roadtrip on down that particular year, just by chance.
If you click the image to get a closer look, you'll see that we sat in the Lund Grandstand coming out of turn 2. The Tony Stewart flipping accident that Robbie refers to happened right in front of us. Also in the image of the ticket stub notice the car on the very bottom, the black #3. What you may be unable to discern is the Daytona 500 logo in the bottom left quarter of the ticket stub is in actuality my event pin, which I placed on top of the ticket to take the picture. The event pin is usually affixed to my official going-to-the-races hat, a corduroy Adam Petty Spree hat adorned with other event pins.
I'll try to make this brief. The trip down to Daytona was uneventful, other than the fact that it was 50 degrees warmer in Orlando when we arrived than it'd been in Mass when we left the previous day. We went to an Orlando Magic game the night we arrived, went to the Kennedy Space Center the following day and then to the 500 on the third and final day we were there.
If you've never been to Daytona, you must go once at least because no one can convey to you just how enormous and awesome this place is; and the first time you hear the air being moved by the 43 car freight train 3 to 5 seconds before the cars get to you is unreal...and loud.
The race itself was typical of the big pack Daytona races of the time, which was quite exciting being there for the first time. The Big One, as I said, started right in front of us. There was lots of drafting and lead changes, everyone in one big pack. Coming to the finish it was exciting because of who was running near the front and had the strongest cars -- Mikey Waltrip, the eventual winner; Dale Jr and Dale Sr.
As for Dale's accident, I can't tell you much from a personal recollection standpoint because it happened nearly half a track away from us. We were sitting maybe 100 yards down the back straight from turn 2 and the accident starts in turn 3. Everyone was standing and looking to our right because that's where the pack was, so there were people kind of in our way when the accident happens; but even from our distant vantage point, it looked to be a typical, harmless Daytona accident, just like it looked on television. Since we were leaving for Mass directly from the race, we left as the checkered flag flew and didn't see Ken Schrader or the ambulance or any of what you saw on TV; and I don't believe there were big screens there either.
What was eerie, surreal and ultimately sad was listening to the post race interviews and updates on the car radio as we're leaving Daytona. I remember Bro and I basically looking at each other with a "no way" expression when we heard Dale was taken to the hospital and that things didn't "look good" and rather soon after that when it was announced that Dale Earnhardt had died. Neither of us were fans of DE but I can tell you that was a quieter and sadder trip home than you would expect after doing something as exciting as attending your first Daytona 500.