Pure genius: Daytona 500 follows on heels of Super Bowl

By Doug Halberstadt
Sports Columnist

Two of the world’s largest sporting events take place during the month of February. Millions of people all over the globe just witnessed professional football’s greatest game, the Super Bowl. The second mega event will take place Sunday, Feb. 24. That’s when NASCAR will showcase its biggest event of the season, the Daytona 500.

Unlike the two teams that competed for the Lombardi Trophy in the Super Bowl, the Daytona 500 will feature 43 different drivers hoping to get their hands on the Harley J. Earl Trophy. The coveted hardware goes to the winner of “The Great American Race.”

More than 80,000 people showed up in New Orleans to watch the Super Bowl. It’s estimated that between 150,000 and 200,000 will make the pilgrimage to Florida to watch the race. The first Super Bowl was played in 1967. The first Daytona 500 was run in 1959.

The Super Bowl has always enjoyed a massive following. The popularity of the Daytona 500 didn’t really catch on until 1979. That was the first year CBS decided to broadcast the entire race on live television. Much of the national viewing audience was homebound because of massive snowstorms sweeping large portions of the country.

They were treated to one of the most memorable finishes in NASCAR history. During the final lap, Cale Yarborough and Donny Allison began beating and banging one another on their way to the checkered flag. Neither driver ever made it. Instead, they crashed in turn three. That allowed Richard Petty to walk away with his sixth Daytona championship. As Petty celebrated, CBS had their cameras focused on Yarborough and Allison engaged in a fist fight. That single moment receives much of the credit for the popularity that exists in NASCAR to this day.

Both events are massive undertakings to produce. The pomp and circumstance that surrounds each event often overshadows the actual contest itself. The Super Bowl has become a national showcase for advertisers to try to outdo each other with their creative commercials. Fans tune in as much for the commercials as they do the game.

Part of the hype that surrounds the Daytona 500 is the announcement of who will be singing at the pre-race party and then the national anthem. This year, that honor goes to the Zac Brown Band. Band member Clay Cook will sing the “Star Spangled Banner.”

Thanks to the Super Bowl and the Daytona 500, millions and millions of sports fans are able to survive the long, cold days of winter. My hat’s off to whoever came up with the idea of having them both in February. PURE GENIUS!

Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.

From the Feb. 6-12, 2013, issue

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