DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Juanita ‘Lightnin’ Epton, whose warmth and kindness to others has made her part of the fabric of Daytona International Speedway – and an American icon – celebrated her 101st birthday Thursday.
A member of the Speedway’s ticket office operations at the storied 2.5-mile track since 1958 when the “World Center of Racing” was built by “Big Bill” France, ‘Lightnin’ was surprised with a birthday celebration by Speedway and NASCAR staff inside the Daytona International Speedway Ticket Office, where she was working during the day.
Epton actually sold tickets part-time to NASCAR events on the storied Daytona “Beach/Road Course” in the mid-1940s through 1958, prior to the first DAYTONA 500 in 1959.
“Lightnin’ has been a staple of Daytona International Speedway since its inception,” said Speedway President Frank Kelleher. “Her smile is radiant, and her love for the Speedway and NASCAR is second to none. She loves our fans, too, and works hard to help them in any way. Fans ask for her all the time when they come to Daytona. What a day, and what an incredible person. We are all honored to work with her.”
Epton’s late husband, Joe, was NASCAR’s first timer and scorer, from 1947-85, which took him all over the country to more NASCAR races than nearly anyone. The couple had first met “Big Bill” at the fairgrounds in Spartanburg, S.C., in 1945, where Joe was scoring races. While having worked the Daytona Beach/Road Course events prior, they moved to Florida when France began building Daytona International Speedway in ’58, and ‘Lightnin’ started working at the ticket office alongside Anne B. France, Big Bill’s wife.
Epton has always believed her place was in the ticket office, and had never seen a DAYTONA 500 in person until 2018 when she watched a portion of the event from a suite. An institution at the track for more than six decades, NASCAR’s oldest employee and Grenada, Miss., native says she has no plans of stopping, and is looking forward to the track hosting its Coke Zero Sugar 400 and Wawa 250 Powered by Coca-Cola on Aug. 27-28.
“I have no intention of retiring,“ says Epton, who says her nickname ‘Lightnin” was given to her by Joe, who said when they first got married, he never knew when and where she’d strike. “When people retire, they get stale, and I am not getting stale. I am going to work as long as I can. I love the people I work for, and it’s a nice place to work. Until they tell me otherwise, I am going to stay.”
The Coke Zero Sugar 400 will serve as the last-chance race to for a driver to make the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs on Saturday, Aug. 28. The Wawa 250 Powered by Coca-Cola for the NASCAR Xfinity Series is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 27. For ticket information, visit www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com.