Rhett Bradley is not a fan of the 9 to 5 workday.
When the Battalion Chief for Volusia Fire Services isn’t committing to helping protect the lives of people in his community, he can be found ensuring the safety of those trackside at Daytona International Speedway as a Security Officer.
While it may seem like quite the random place for a fireman of nearly 30 years to spend his off-hours, for Rhett, the asphalt of Daytona International Speedway in his blood.
“My dad, my grandfather – actually, both grandfathers – and my uncle all worked here since this track opened up; and they all worked in security,” he explained. “My dad worked here when they still ran the races on the beach, but actually missed the first race DAYTONA 500 in 1959 because he was in the military.”
And so, on his 18th birthday in 1979, after over a decade of coming to races and visit the “World Center of Racing” on a regular basis, Rhett officially joined the long list of Bradley men to punch in for duty at DAYTONA.
“This has been a staple throughout my entire life,” he remarked. “Through the years, this has been the one thing that’s always been consistent; through two marriages, kids, and the whole deal.”
“My wife, when I first met her, I told her, ‘The racetrack may drive you crazy. I have a crazy schedule out there.’ And there have been times since she met me that she’s said, ‘Are you married to me, or are you married to the racetrack?’ I say, ‘Well, I married the track first.’ But there will always be room in my life for DAYTONA.”
So of what exactly does this Rhett’s earliest matrimony consist?
When we say security, I think a lot of people don’t fully understand what our objective is,” he began. “For us, security about controlling access points. We don’t walk around guarding certain people or anything like that. What we concentrate more on is access and control, making sure that the right people are in the right places. Essentially, we help people get to the right places and make sure that the facility is protected.”
With so much time spent at the facility he takes pride in protecting, Rhett Bradley certainly has experiences an unprecedented level of growth and change at Daytona International Speedway.
“Throughout the years we’ve just done so much to improve the experience for fans,” he explained. “We’ve renovated the infield and built the UNOH Fanzone, repaved the track and built this unbelievable stadium. It’s amazing how this place has just become so dynamic. We don’t just do races anymore. We do everything from racing events to proms and weddings to music festivals like the Country 500. Whatever we can get into this track, we can do it.”
Certainly, a variety of new, different events bring a variety of layouts, access points and responsibilities for the security team.
ity, you have to be dynamic, and be able to adjust to all that stuff,” he explained. “That’s what we had to learn how to do. That’s what keeps me here.”
And truly, contrary to what many would believe and regardless of the exciting new additions, the schedule of the security team really is year-round.
“Over the years, as we’ve taken on a lot more responsibilities, security has become 24 hours a day here,” he said. “There’s always somebody here from security. Even on Christmas Day, Thanksgiving, someone has got to work. We may not have the gates open, but somebody’s got to be patrolling.”
With an ever-growing list of events, staffing and finding the right collection of individuals is more important than ever, especially for a job that has to handle the questions, confusion and sometimes anger and stress of certain guests.
“We look for people that are friendly, humble and don’t have an abrasive attitude,” he explained. “The guy that’s going to be down here in UNOH Fanzone has to interface with people on a continual basis, is going to have to be polite. It’s so important have to have people that can talk to people, a people person; not just a gruff guy.”
Some people, you give them a badge, and they think they’re the world,” he explained. “Other people you give them the badge, and they want to pay it forward and take that responsibility seriously. That second type of person is what we’re always looking for. It takes a specific type of person to do it and we weed them out really quick.”
This ability to be a firm, but courteous ambassador for DAYTONA, while maintaining one’s composure as well as friendly disposition is a staple for a job – similar to that of a referee - that really only gains attention when something isn’t done the right way.
“You tend to get beat up by everybody. A person may scream and yell at me, but you have to remain calm and really do your best to communicate with them,” he explained. “If the answer is no then you have to stand your ground and politely communicate why that’s not changing just for them. We’re not trying to negatively impact anyone’s weekend; we’re just trying to keep everyone safe and where they should be.”
Despite the challenges, Rhett is adamant on what keeps him coming back each day.
“It’s the challenge of every day and the people I work with that drives me,” he said. “We have a very tight-knit group here. We get to know each other and everyone’s families and make a point to spend time together outside of work. The schedule and job is so demanding that, if it wasn’t for the friends and the people that you work with here, it wouldn’t be worth working here.”
“As I mentioned, the challenges we face drive me as well,” he reiterated. “I feel like I have a little ownership of the place. I’ve been here long enough that I feel like I have ownership of what goes on here. I see it as my track to take care of and I want to see it succeed and want people to look at us like we’re the best.”
One of the team’s biggest logistical challenge and certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience in Rhett’s standout career was President George W. Bush’s visit to the 2004 DAYTONA 500.
“When President Bush was here the last time I had the Secret Service ride with me for three days,” he recalled. “They knew everything about me. There was an agent assigned to me everywhere I went. He probably had his breaks coordinated with when I went the bathroom. He and I got to be very, very good friends. They were just so on top of everything. They wanted to know what was going on around the track – little things, big things, anything they could soak in and learn.”
Even when the President isn’t here, Rhett believes that there’s still plenty of excitement to go around at the World Center of Racing – especially in the infield where he does a majority of his work.
"The infield at DAYTONA is a special place,” he began. “First of all, for anybody that’s never been in here before, UNOH Fanzone is an amazing experience on DAYTONA 500 day. You get to go out on the tri-oval and get to walk the track, see driver introductions up-close and get entertained with a first-class concert. To me, that’s a no-brainer. And when you add in the ability to see the garages, get into Gatorade Victory Lane and have driver appearances, it becomes an experience that any race fan has to have.”
The infield recommendations from the DAYTONA veteran don’t end there.
“You have to try camping here at some point. During Speedweeks, from Thursday on, this place never sleeps. The thing that I would tell somebody that’s never been in that infield is to make friends with somebody and spend some time with them. Everybody who is here is a fan; they’re die-hards that aren’t just here to have a vacation. They’re parked, they’re having a blast, they’re relaxed and, most importantly, they don’t have to drive anywhere when the racing action is done. You’ll be introduced to a completely new side of the sport that truly experience an entire event, not just the races. I’ve made really good friends that way.”
Though he can count four of his six groomsmen among his co-workers, family - something that has been synonymous with Daytona International Speedway from the earliest days of Bill France Sr. – is the thing that ties together Rhett’s relationship with the iconic track.
“My mom actually works right beside me now in the security office,” he said. She used to be a full-time employee here, but once she retired she had some time on her hands and I really needed someone that knew what was going on.”
Before they passed, both of my grandfathers and my uncle use to work out here. My brother was working here for a while before he moved and my daughter, when she was old enough, I put her to work out here.”
“My dad, a few years after he left from security, became the RV and motorhome liaison for the driver owner lot. He’s actually retiring after the DAYTONA 500 after being involved with the track for 57 years.”
So while the Earnhardts, Pettys, Andrettis, Allisons and Elliotts get more attention, the story of Rhett and the Bradleys may best capture the bond that so many have experience about Daytona International Speedway as a treasured family memory passed down from generation to generation.
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