Ron Kendrick has spent his professional career as a de facto spokesman for Daytona Beach area, a local ambassador proudly representing the central Florida area for over 40 years.
While a majority of Kendrick’s career was spent bringing local citizens the news as an anchor at WESH 2 News, the last decade has seen him spending his time educating guests about the area’s crown jewel, working his way to Lead Tourologist at Daytona International Speedway.
A homegrown product of Daytona Beach, Kendrick had a special relationship with Daytona International Speedway even before he graduated from Mainland High School and embarked on a career in broadcast news.
“I got to see the birth of this place from when I when was a kid,” he reminisced. “I watched it grow up, come out of the ground. This was all swamp and woods before Bill France. It’s been incredible to watch the entire lifespan of something so iconic.”
Ron began working at the local NBC television affiliate, WESH 2 News, in 1970, where he served as an anchor and correspondent out of their Daytona Beach studio. An expert on the area where he grew up, throughout his proud career many of his stories focused on events in the Volusia-Flagler County region. In 1987 he was named to the Orlando television news all-star team by the Orlando Sentinel and in 2004 he was named to Orlando TV Times’ Golden 50 list, which honored the 50th anniversary of television’s start in Central Florida with a list of 50 people whose work made an impact on the region and its viewers.
Among his favorite DAYTONA memories he lists the Petty-Pearson finish in the 1976 DAYTONA 500, watching President Reagan land in Air Force One in 1984 and being able to interview Richard Petty after his 200th and final win.
In 2004, his distinguished 34-year stint with WESH 2 News came to an end, putting him on the lookout for a challenging new opportunity.
“The gentleman that was running what was then known as DAYTONA USA at Daytona International Speedway called me to see if looking for something to do and asked me if I was to come out to be a tour guide,” he recalled.
A no-brainer for the born-and-raised local, Ron was a perfect fit thanks to the unique perspective of living in Daytona Beach prior to the construction of the now iconic Daytona International Speedway combined with years of experience covering races at DAYTONA throughout his television career.
“I had a good working knowledge base of the Speedway itself,” Kendrick explained. “I knew all of the major players in DAYTONA’s history, so I think my television background and familiarity with the area was very beneficial.”
In addition to years of experience at DAYTONA, his predisposition as a natural-born entertainer certainly lent a hand to success in the art of guided touring.
“As a matter of fact, I just brought a tour back and the lady said, ‘We enjoy your sense of humor.’” he recounted. “I try to joke around and try to be funny in order to make it educational and entertaining at the same time. I figure, if I’m smiling and having a good time, chances are pretty good that they are too.”
It’s these unique communication skills and passion for people make him a natural fit for the job. What would be a challenge for many, communicating to a large group of people with varying ranges of knowledge and interest in motorsports, comes easily to the veteran tour guide.
“I’ll go out with anywhere from 20-70 people on a tour and love interacting with all of them,” he said. “My favorite part of the tour is being able to interact one-on-one with people at different stops. I like that a lot. What happens quite regularly is that people won’t ask questions when I open it up for the whole group, but often come up to me afterwards because they feel like it’s a silly question. To me, there’s no such thing as a silly question here. That’s why you come – to learn.”
His belief in no question being a silly question certainly sets the tone to his tour guests that everyone is welcome at Daytona International Speedway.
“You answer, to the best of your ability, everybody’s questions,” he explained. “I don’t treat those with no knowledge of racing any differently than those with a wealth of knowledge.”
In fact, he quite often finds that over his 90 minutes with guests, he’s able to pique an interest in motorsports among even the biggest racing novices.
“Some people will come here with family members, not knowing anything about racing,” he explained. "By the end of the tour I’ve had several guests tell me ‘You know, I’ve never watched a race, but now I think I will.’”
After over a decades of giving tours, Ron is adamant he still finds the people to be what he enjoys most about his job.
“Meeting all of the people is really enjoyable,” he explained. “There’s not a tour that goes by that I don’t ask a dozen of them or more where they’re from.”
To this day it still amazes him the amount of international interest the Speedway generates.
“We get people from all over the world that know about Daytona International Speedway,” he said.
“To give you an idea of how far people will come, I spoke to a gentleman that flew in from New Zealand for the Rolex 24 At DAYTONA,” he recalled. “He’d always wanted to come to the 24-hour race and had finally saved his money to make the trip. He flew 22 hours to get here the day before the race, stayed awake almost all 24 hours during the race and then flew back 22 hours to New Zealand the next day. That’s how dedicated our fans are.”
That dedication has certainly been on display throughout the opening of the new Daytona International Speedway as fans are thrilled with the plentiful amenities and unmatched sightlines.
“They love everything they have seen so far. They all say, ‘What a difference.’ I think it’s terrific. The addition of the 40 elevators, the 17 escalators and everything else that makes it easier for everyone to get to and from their seat easier than ever.
With a new stadium comes the creation of a brand-new tour route, taking fans through parts of the Center and Toyota injectors.
"The new tour takes them into the World Center of Racing in the Center injector, which puts them right at the start/finish line, eye level with the flag stand,” he explained. “It’s pretty special to watch their reactions as they look out on a view you can only get at the World Center of Racing.”
In the Toyota injector, tour guides show fans several items on display including the nose piece of Space Shuttle Endeavour and a replica of Kyle Busch’s 2015 Sprint Cup Champion car, along with a replica Sprint Cup Trophy.
Even if Daytona International Speedway isn’t your ultimate destination, the former newscaster gave his best pitch to those looking for a unique cap to their trip.
“The great thing about Daytona International Speedway is that we are ideally located for many folks on their way back home from vacation somewhere else in Florida. If you’re on I-95, it’s an easy stop off of the exit here.”
To those who haven’t yet been on a tour of Daytona International Speedway, the longtime tour guide sums up what you’re missing quite succinctly.
“Everything. If you have even the most remote interest in NASCAR racing then you need to come to the mecca of auto racing.”
To purchase tickets or get more information, please visit the DIS Ticket and Tours Building, call 855-802-7223 or visit online at daytonainternationalspeedway.com