Is Time Travel Possible?
For as many years as I can remember, I've read and re-read stories of the December 14, 1947, meeting in The Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach that was the beginning of NASCAR. As the years passed and I became deeply involved in the preservation of the true history of the sport I heard many stories from different individuals as to how all the business was transacted that day. Actually it was more than a one day meeting but it was the ONE day that established NASCAR. With so many stories from which to choose, how was one to know the truth? Still not sure I know the truth, but I know the stories, fabrications and embellishments that have been told over the years.
Nowhere in my imagination did it ever occur to me that I would have an opportunity to actually stay in the Streamline, or to actually be in the room where the sport came into existence. However, all of that actually happened for me February 11 through 13th. This will not be a story where I was "touched" by the spirit of Big Bill France or Red Vogt or any of the others meeting in the top floor room in 1947, but it is a story of how I enjoyed my little trip down that Memory Lane of history.
Not to sound like a commercial for the hotel, but I can tell you that the Streamline Hotel is definitely a first class operation. From the time I walked in the door to check in, it was as if I were King Richard Petty being welcomed into the White House so many years ago. The entire place was immaculate and covered, floor to ceiling, including the elevator, with NASCAR photos, newspaper clippings, pit passes and whatever you can imagine. In the lobby was a huge sign proclaiming it as "The Birthplace of NASCAR.”
I could go on for pages about the room I was in, the restaurant, the staff, and the deck on the roof which gave a panoramic view of Daytona Beach. I could tell you that from the southwestern corner of the roof top you can see the grandstands of the speedway Big Bill France built, but you'll have to use your imagination for that.
I went into the bar for a glass of water and the only two in the place were Kayla, the bartender and myself. As I sipped my gratuitous glass of icy cold water, Kayla pointed out the imprints on the floor of the original table where the meeting was held and which once held the prominent position in the room. That put my imagination in overdrive as I recalled all the pictures I have seen over the years, taken at those meetings. I won't say that I could almost smell the cigarette smoke in the air, or that I heard the voices of Big Bill and others as they ironed out the details of establishing what would become the biggest motorsports sanctioning body in the world. There was no "magic" transport back in time, but there was most definitely a feeling of awe as I sat where the only sport I've ever followed or cared for was organized. It was a surreal feeling for a lifelong race fan. After all, I'm only 14 months older than NASCAR.
As the rest of the guests began to arrive to be a part of the Back to the Roots celebration of racing history, the hotel became alive with a spirit that can only be described as electric. I won't start naming names for surely I will overlook someone of importance, but then everyone there was of importance. I will tell you when you have 40 or more true pioneers and legends of the sport sitting at one table in the restaurant there is the presence of history being very much alive.
The Back to the Roots events were beyond amazing and I'm not as easily impressed by such events as I once was because I have attended so many, especially over the past year. Each is impressive in its own way, but something about the Back to the Roots gathering is so very special. The event is held at the old Bill France service station he operated before NASCAR came along. Again, there is no feeling of ghosts floating around, but there was the feeling of camaraderie between everyone there that can only be expressed as a common bond shared by a common love for the sport of stock car racing.
As I mounted my silver Mercury to leave Daytona Tuesday, I knew I was leaving behind some great events but I knew I was taking with me special memories that will last a lifetime. I had actually stayed two nights in the very place where MY sport was organized. I had actually taken the same elevator used by Big Bill and company to go up to the top floor to do what it took to make stock car racing a true and organized sport.
As I left the hotel and was driving down highway 92 heading for I-95 North I passed the speedway. Standing on the sidewalk across from the speedway were two guys selling tickets to the 500. On a lark I lowered my passenger window and asked the price. The guy stuck a hand full of tickets in my window and told me they were priced at over $300.00 but I could have them for $50.00 each. I thought of the old time scam tricks but he insisted he has to get rid of them and he had only paid $50.00 from them at the ticket outlet in Daytona. How much of that is true I cannot say. I can say that on Sunday, I passed the speedway at 1:00 p.m. That was in the middle of pole qualifying and before the "Clash, Shootout or whatever it is now" and there was a parking lot just before the track that posted a sign saying "Parking $20.00", obviously a $10.00 mark up from the ARCA race as clearly indicated by the "2" being crudely made from the "1" of the previous day. Although the lot appeared capable of parking 200 or more cars, there were less than 20 cars to be seen. The ONLY fans I saw were a father with four daughters ranging in age from about 8 to 15 getting ready to cross the street to the speedway. How sad, I thought to myself, that what was created in the smoke-filled room and was such a huge success from so many years has been relegated to $50.00 tickets and wide open parking lots.
That last paragraph is by no means an indictment of NASCAR, per se, as I am aware attendance at most major sporting events is way down. I understand the ratings for the Winter Olympics are the lowest ever. But still, I have to wonder if NASCAR management were to revisit that top floor room of the Streamline and perhaps imagine Big Bill was sitting at that table, would things change?