Since its inaugural year in 1959, millions of fans have attended the DAYTONA 500, enjoying the fabulous finishes, magical moments and legendary drivers that have transformed Bill France Sr.’s big dream into the Great American Race.
However, only a select few can say that they’ve been on hand for nearly every DAYTONA 500 since its inception. We tracked down a few fans that are about to celebrate their 50th consecutive DAYTONA 500 to share their stories of how it all began and what keeps them coming back year after year.
Next up is Michigan-native Mary Jo Moore, who attended her first DAYTONA 500 in 1968.
Daytona International Speedway: How did the tradition of coming to the DAYTONA 500 get started? When was your first DAYTONA 500?
Mary Jo Moore: I’m from Grand Rapids, Michigan and Bob Senneker was a local short track that brought a car down to qualify for the DAYTONA 500. So a lot of us came down to support him; just a ton of friends. When you’re young you can drive forever, so we drove straight through. A couple of my girlfriends and I just decided that we were going to turn that into our winter vacation from work.
So once again we were young, we took my Volkswagen Beetle, packed it and came down to Daytona for like six days and went to the DAYTONA 500. When you’re 18 years old and you go to a big facility like that, you’re just in awe. Back then I think the seats and the main sections of the grandstands were only about fifteen rows high.
Bob qualified for the race and started 34th and finished 13th, if I’m not mistaken. I remember that we met Cale Yarborough later that night at a restaurant so we not only watched him win the race, but we got to meet him afterwards. A hard first experience to beat.
DIS: Who do you normally attend the races with? Have you sat in one spot over the years and tried out several vantage points?
MJ: I’ve been in the infield, in the stands, on the backstretch, and now I’m back on the frontstretch. I even spotted for somebody in an ARCA race once! An ARCA team that was down here came down and nobody wanted to spot because they had to go way up on top of the main tower. I love heights, so I volunteered
We’ve camped out before as well. To truly experience the whole atmosphere of the place, you need to do that your first time at DAYTONA. Plus, while everyone else is in traffic after the race, you can sit back, relax and recap the race with your friends.
DIS: What does your race day look like? Where are you tailgating? When do you go inside the stadium? What are you eating and drink? Take us with you through a race day.
MJ: We leave the condo, which is on the beach, we leave no later than 5:20 in the morning. We get there, we bring out the chairs, we fix breakfast and talk to everybody around us, find out where they’re from. Then about 11:00 am, everything goes back into the vehicle, we get our backpacks on, get on the tram and we go through all of the vendor areas. Then at about 1:00 pm we will head to our seats.
After the race, instead of battling traffic, we sit in our seats and discuss the race for a while. Then we get our tram, go back to our vehicle and by then things have cleared out and we’re back to the condo in about 25 minutes.
That’s the whole key. Get to the track early, be prepared, and then afterwards, take your time in leaving. The race doesn’t come around again for another year so no need to rush out. Also, I always make sure I have energy bars and at least one bottle of lemon water. I have a sweatshirt that’s also in my clear backpack in case it gets cold – and always have comfortable shoes on!
DIS: How much did the new stadium add to your DAYTONA 500 race day experience? What was the biggest difference you noticed?
MJ: The concourse is excellent. Getting to the upper decks has been made easier for the fans. The seats are wider, which everybody enjoys. You’ve got to be in your seat if you’re not down in the UNOH Fanzone or down on the track to enjoy the pre-race that’s going on.
DIS: What are some of your favorite/most memorable DAYTONA 500 moments? Do you have a favorite DAYTONA 500 and why?
MJ: Well, the first one was probably the most memorable and the most exciting. The next best one would be when Kevin Harvick in 2007 won. My husband had passed right before the trip coming down here and I wasn’t going to come. The Harvicks, who I met through DeLana Harvick’s father, John Paul Linville, told me ‘You have to be here. If you’re not coming, we’re going to make sure that you’re here.’ So they just tried to keep me uplifted and be a part of everything and then he won it. Being able to celebrate with them, it really meant a lot that they included me.
DIS: Why is coming to the DAYTONA 500 such a special thing for you? What keeps you coming back each year?
MJ: The whole facility stands out above everybody else’s, and I think I’ve been to every single track on the NASCAR schedule. One year I tried to do them all. Let me tell you, that’ll kill you!
After I retired, my husband and I were trying to do that, but he didn’t live long enough to experience it with me. So now I go with my nephew and his wife. This will be their third year with me and now they’re hooked. I also have other friends that come down.
The first year that my nephew came down, it was so fun to watch them watch what was going on. They became big Kevin Harvick fans through me, because I know the Harvicks and they got to meet him at a fan club autograph session. It was fun to watch them when I knew that it was their first time down there. They were so excited they couldn’t sleep the night before.
We actually have a Pre-Daytona Party in August at my house to make plans as to who is coming and what races we’re going to. I have a great-nephew that races at our local track, so we have to wait until the season is over with, and then we start making plans on who’s flying, who is driving what races everyone wants to go to?
I automatically renew my five tickets because I don’t want to lose them. They are perfect seats. So, hopefully, after I’m not able to make this trip they’ll continue with their family. It’s funny because everybody teases me or if somebody upsets me during the year, I’ll say ‘Whoops, the list is changing!’ Everybody knows the list refers to who is coming with me to Daytona.
DIS: What would you say to someone that has never been, but is considering coming?
MJ: First, they should invest in the UNOH Fanzone ticket. If you’ve never been, you need to be a part of that. You’ll see a lot of cool stuff. You might run into your driver so get there early, be prepared and just enjoy the day.
DIS: How long do you plan on going? What keeps you coming back?
MJ: I’ll be coming down here as long as my health stays the same or gets better, but for now and I’ll still be in my seat when the green flag waves!
The communal atmosphere in the seats is just hard to stay away from. We get everybody involved in our small little section. It just makes the day a little bit more fun! There’s like five of us that all root for Harvick, everybody else has their own driver.
This will be my 50th DAYTONA 500 and I actually hadn’t even thought about the number until I got to 46, when I planned on not coming back. But I had to go for 50 in a row. It will be extra special this year because, not only is it my 50th, but it’s on my birthday! I’ll be 68 on the day of the DAYTONA 500.
It's never too late to start a DAYTONA 500 tradition of your very own. Join us for the race that means more than any other – at the place that's unlike anything else. Guarantee your seats for the 2017 DAYTONA 500 before they sell out. For tickets and more information, visit DAYTONA500.com or call 1-800-PITSHOP.