Crash.Net exclusive by DC Williams
For understandable reasons, Daytona International Speedway doesn't often give notice beyond about 24-48 hours for otherwise unexpected celebrity ... um, er, high-profile NASCAR Nextel Cup driver visits.
Whether it be for security reasons or being able to host a driver who shoehorned a last-minute track visit into an already busy schedule, local scribes often get DIS-originated e-mails that quickly turn personal schedules upside-down. Such was the case when the Speedway announced Dale Earnhardt Jr was coming to town, ostensibly to be DIS 'president' for a day.
As press representatives milled about, 'Mr President' arrived in the Bill France Room at Daytona USA. At first glance, everyone knew they weren't laying eyes upon some ordinary corporate executive. Flanked by suits wearing carefully-pressed slacks and starched, long-sleeved shirts, this president-for-a-day was wearing jeans, a
plaid, short-sleeved shirt and blue baseball cap. If he was to be president - if only for a day - it was going to be his way - even though Earnhardt looked as though he wanted to be almost anywhere else.
After being proclaimed president, he and 40 of his closest media friends - at least on that day - took a stroll to a nearby conference room where Earnhardt - faced with a choice of three artist-rendered colour-scheme variations - picked the 3 July Pepsi 400 pace car, announced a record $5.8million race purse and named its grand marshal.
As the crowd started moving ahead to Earnhardt's next 'job', a bold TV cameraman stepped forward. Standing before Earnhardt, he thrust a microphone at him and asked 'what would you like to be doing right now, Mr President?'.
"Heading down to sell some tickets for the Pepsi 400," Earnhardt responded.
The undeterred cameraman asked again 'what would YOU
really like to be doing right now, Mr President?'.
"Me and a few of my buddies driving a pace car around this big ol' track," said Earnhardt.
Persisting, the cameraman asked again.
"Mr President, what would YOU REALLY LIKE
to be doing right now?"
At first, peering from beneath the rim of his baseball cap, Earnhardt raised his head just a bit, looked directly at the cameraman, threw on a wry smile and twice raised his eyebrows.
Off to sell tickets.
Taking a seat at a counter where the public can buy DIS event tickets, the only thing separating Earnhardt from the soon-to-be fan throng was a bank-like counter and glass window. A young woman now standing before Earnhardt could hardly believe her eyes.
"No, we didn't announce to anyone in the lobby that he'd be here," Speedway senior media director Kenny Kane said, "We would've had a mob scene."