Since his first visit to the Daytona 500 in 1991, it has changed dramatically. JHE’s senior director of transportation, Terry Hodges, sat down and shared how the race, track and traffic has changed in the past 24 years:
In 1991, even the Speedway was different. With only one tunnel, we used to have to drive over the race track to set the haulers and park on the backstretch of the track. I was 21 and wide eyed working on the marketing and promotions team for Dale Earnhardt Jr. During race week, you would set up at the Ocean Center and constantly run back and forth to and from the track. Traffic wasn’t nearly as bad so it was possible.
After seven years with the team, I started working for Racing Radios, the two-way radio communication provider for NASCAR and their teams. I was installing helmet kits for each driver; drilling holes and running wires for their microphones. It never made me nervous until I found out that the crazy paint jobs inside – crossbones, skulls and more – cost $5,500. Not many people knew this even existed because you couldn’t see it unless the helmet was in your hands. I got to see some really cool stuff!
After that, I worked as a NASCAR official for four years and was responsible for inspecting each car. It was a long two days; working from 6 a.m. to midnight. Teams tried to get away with the craziest things – golf ball tape, sterno and drop-down panels to name a few – to make their cars go faster.
My first race at JHE was the hardest our team has ever worked in our lives. It was the year we acquired both The Sprint Experience and moved our corporate offices to Harrisburg, North Carolina. For three straight weeks, every single JHE team member worked from 5 a.m. to midnight. A lot of people thought we couldn’t do it but we got to Daytona and pulled off every single project seamlessly.
Today, it is always the “getting to Daytona” part that is most difficult. Once we get to track, we get our “sea legs” (a Navy term) and the adrenalin always pushes us to where we need to be. The look of pride everyone’s face at the end of the race is the absolute best feeling and nothing beats that.
Every year though, I am amazed at the track’s sound. My favorite memory will always be the sound of the track. You arrive at 5 a.m. and it is still dark and eerily quiet. As the day goes by, the sound begins to buzz around you and the ambient noise begins to build. By race time, it’s deafening. It’s phenomenal; literally the quiet before the storm. It’s been this way since my first race.