Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Daytona As A Place Of Healing

In January, I usually drive over to the Rolex 24 Sports Car race at Daytona. While it is fun to see all the interesting machines and to watch the NASCAR drivers try to fit-in with guys named Derek and Hans, there is also something very interesting going-on.

The activity in the pits, the practice sessions and the Fan Zone vendors help bring something back to life that for many of us has become a vital part of our existence. It's a return to normalcy that evokes a strong emotion.

There is a sense of healing at Daytona now. I felt it when I saw the fans posing with Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s statue outside the speedway. I felt it when the fans in their NASCAR clothing stopped sports car drivers and asked for their name. I felt it when I looked in the infield and saw Ferrari and Porsche flags flying alongside the red #8 and the black #3.

For racing fans, the Rolex 24 has once again become a melting pot of top drivers from all over the world, from different racing series, and from very different backgrounds. One recent addition over the last five years or so has been the influx of high-profile NASCAR drivers. For this one event, that has made a huge difference.

My last trip to Daytona for the Rolex 24 helped me to get the courage and conviction that I needed to begin this blog. Returning to Daytona for the NASCAR events just fortified my belief that much of what was right with the world can be seen at a big racetrack. It seems like everybody of every shape and kind is there, and having as much fun discovering each other as getting ready to watch the race.

It never fails on a race weekend that the memories of some of the people you meet stick with you. America is full of characters, full of stories, and full of people who have overcome big things in their lives just to be at the racetrack.

In a couple of weeks, the Infield Media Center at Daytona will brush off its dust and open once again to the racing press. The reporters who assemble for the Rolex 24 are just as varied as the fans in the stands. Some are there to follow a driver or team, others were sent by their editors because of the curiosity factor.

The racing media veterans are always there, hunched over a laptop and using a cell phone while simultaneously listening to a driver interview and trying to see what is for lunch. This year, a friend of The Daly Planet will be there only by the grace of God and his own personal courage.

When I started emailing with Bob Margolis from Yahoo! Sports, he was very kind to take the time to respond to an unknown blogger from Florida. Since that first time, I took him up on his offer of advice during the season on a wide variety of topics.

While he told me some very wise things, he left something out. The entire time, while emailing with me about NASCAR topics, he was in the middle of a life-or-death battle with Cancer.

In his understated style, he kept things focused on racing, despite the real issue at hand. Once I was made aware of his situation, I asked him how things were going. At that time, they were not going well. His disease had pulled him off the road, removed him from his job, changed his life forever, and now was trying to end it.

Many of us held our breaths while Bob battled on through a wide variety of challenges on both a personal and medical level. As regular readers of Yahoo! Sports know, Bob never lost his desire for racing or his ability to write about it.

Now, as the Rolex 24 looms at Daytona once again, Bob Margolis will be one of the reporters walking into the Infield Media Center ready to get back to work. While nothing in life is certain, Bob finally made public his struggle with an outstanding column that is a must-read for every NASCAR fan. It can be read by clicking here.

Bob's article talks about the people who helped him and the people he met along the way during this season on the brink. I never thought that I would be one of those people. It's been one of my greatest pleasures to know that Bob is reading my columns, and appreciates what we are trying to do with The Daly Planet.

In just a couple of weeks, it will also be my pleasure to read Bob's stories of the Rolex 24, and know that he is once again at Daytona...where the real healing process can begin.

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