Daytona is throwing a lot of “firsts” at us for 2021. The Daytona Cup Road Course wraps a month of racing in Daytona, going back to the “Roar” and Rolex for IMSA in January to the Clash, the Duels, the 500 and this, the road course. This year the schedule is Daytona times two for NASCAR points races to start as just one “first”. (Back to back Daytona 500 and Daytona Road Course one week later)

Of course, Daytona hosts the “first” points races for IMSA and for NASCAR.

IMSA-Rolex 24 and Wayne Taylor Racing. Yes, it was a third win for WTR but… 2021 marks the “first” year running an Acura powered DPi (Switched from Cadillac).

Kyle Busch won his second Busch Clash – but his “first” scheduled race with new crew chief Ben Beshore. (Beshore subbed for a few races in 2017)

Alex Bowman grabs the pole in the Daytona 500 – His “first” points start in the #48 replacing retired Jimmie Johnson (*Bowman had the pole in the #88 in 2018).

Michael McDowell makes his mark with his “first” Cup win at the Daytona 500.

Ben Rhodes gets his “first” Daytona win, and his “first” year of 2 wins, and his “first” 2 wins in a row – All at Daytona for the Camping World Trucks to start the 2021 points season.

Ty Gibbs wins his “first” Xfinity start – Xfinity Daytona Road Course.

Christopher Bell won the Daytona Cup Road Course – His “first” Cup series win.

Now… After a month of racing… We leave Daytona. However, the next race is still in Florida – At Homestead Miami. (A “first” for Homestead to immediately follow Daytona…)

Michael McDowell. We’re going to wager there were no wagers paid out for the Daytona 500. Anyone that would have selected McDowell to win the “500” would be the type of person to choose a McRib over a North Carolina baby back rack…

Lots of Cup career starts… No wins… A handful of top 10s… Nope. Not the top pick to win the points opener. He’s been around quite a while but hasn’t been able to make that jump to the top tier… Until now. A win at the Daytona 500.

Now… Front Row Motorsports is indeed on the front. For now. Time will tell if this win pushes McDowell and FRM to show more performance. The win of the #34 LOVES Ford brings to mind the 2011 win by Trevor Bayne. Bayne managed some good rides but couldn’t quite grab a victory payoff after his Daytona. (It should be noted health issues plagued Trevor’s career moving forward.)

Whatever… All things being equal McDowell was on his way to very respectable third place. Joey Logano was leading Brad Keselowski. Final lap touch, spin, wall, fire, done… McDowell rolled through and nosed over the caution lights in front.

In a race that started in the afternoon with a big crash early on and rain shortly after that held the field until shortly after 9:00pm. The race ended a bit after midnight.

Michael McDowell’s late night ride into fantasy land marked yet another odd out finish for the stories that are spawned at Daytona. It was a miracle finish for a race that paid homage to a 20 year loss of Dale Earnhardt. Lap 3 was a tribute to the Man in the Goodwrench #3. The final lap (and the mash up in lap 14) was a tribute to the racing safety largely inspired by that fabled wreck in 2001.

This Daytona had a few surprises. McDowell… Well…, Yeah… The #48 with Alex Bowman on pole was another. Although, in reality if you think about it, the Ally #48 with Alex Bowman was the same car for Alex Bowman as the #88 would have been with different stickers. Bubba Wallace and the new #23 team ran really well with time up front and finished 17th after being caught in the last lap mash up. Two big crashes that were rather spectacular. A mid race fast food run by drivers. Denny Hamlin did not win.

On top of that… They stay in Daytona to run the road course as the next points race. Speed Week is Speed Weeks and Daytona never ends… For another week, anyway…

The racing culture in and around Roanoke, Virginia runs deep. There are drivers running local tracks, there is a deep fan base and there are folks who simply live within that culture day to day. One of these fellows has been deeply immersed in area racing for quite a long time. He is so often behind the scenes that his influence is experienced without notice. He’s a bit like mild mannered Clark Kent… However, he has no cape (that we know of), he simply has a love of the sport of racing and throws a super effort into what he does.

The man is Mike Paris. He doesn’t walk around with his “Race Day” game face on all the time. It’s more likely, if you passed by him walking about, you wouldn’t know from looking that he’s even a racing fan. He has a family. He has cats. He has a Porsche. But he’s not one of “those” Porsche guys… Given the chance he may talk more about the cats than the car… They are named after Formula 1 Ferrari drivers. That’s just Mike.

He’s been around racing a long time. His father was involved selling tickets, driving the clean-up truck and whatever else needed done at Martinsville. Mike’s Dad was a pretty good shooter, too. Here’s a good shot of the “Petty Blue” #43 Plymouth and 4 year old Mike with H. Clay Earles (Martinsville Speedway builder / owner) and The King, Richard Petty.

Our first contact with Mike Paris was, of course, at Martinsville Speedway. It was easy to see he knew his way around. He knew the people around the room and the track. However, unlike many race photographers, he was open and welcoming and happy to share advice on where to get photos. More importantly… Where NOT to get photos. This was before the mandatory photographer meetings. (These days, NASCAR and other sanctioned series tracks hold “must attend” photographer meetings to lay out the rules of where and when photographers may shoot.)

Plus… To give you kids an idea of how long Mike has been shooting at race tracks. Many years ago, the cameras used “film”. It was a special strip of thin plastic on rolls that fit inside the camera and required time and chemicals to get a single photo. The rolls allowed a photographer to shoot 24 or 36 photos before manually switching out to another roll of film. Modern cameras, of course, are digital and a single storage card can hold hundreds of images which are immediately available…

Mike Paris at the track. Cameras, film, lenses, vest, headset… Check! Photo: Steve Sheppard

Mike comes from the film days at the race track. Watching for the shot, being patient with the camera, paying attention to the details of racing so those 36 frames per roll are used as efficiently as possible. The rush came after the race… Getting that film to the lab to be processed… Often for next day publication. There was no PhotoShop. You got the shot right in the camera, in focus, with correct light or you had a worthless, blurry waste of a shot.

Pit Stop – Rusty Wallace #27 Miller Genuine Draft Pontiac Grand Prix – Mike Paris Photo

You’ve seen Mike’s images in local (and national) news publications… He is a practical wiki of walking race information. His photos and time at the track have cultivated friendships and first name relationships with drivers, crews and owners.

But wait! That’s not all! With Mike Paris, you also get racing teams! Mike has been on the pit wall of racing with winning teams. He has been there when the tires need changed, when the fuel goes in, when the car needs “no seconds to spare” repairs… He has done the late nights in the garage and he has been there in Victory Lane. It showcases his love of racing and the people within it to be directly involved with the teams through participation sponsorship. Many companies run money through the sport but few can boast the personal attention and passion that Paris brought with it.

Mike Paris (left) with Modified Champion Riggs Racing. Reggie Newman, Charli Brown and Andy Seuss (right)

This deep involvement with racing has influenced the sport locally for the benefit of the many race fans that live in and visit the area. Working promotions and planning for a major auto parts chain, Mike was centrally involved with sponsorship of racing events at small local tracks and national series events. He was there for NASCAR, NHRA, Modifieds and Late Model with direct sponsorship deals of winning race teams.

NHRA Champion Cruz Pedregon, Mike Paris (center) and crew chief Rahn Tobler

Mike’s perspective as a race fan was a driving force with his work in this capacity. He was outspoken with his view that sponsorship also has a responsibility to create a fan experience. He knew the fans made any event work and the name on the billboards was to issue a “Thank You” for their support.

Now…? What’s he doing now…? Mike’s history, deep experience and friendships from on and off the track presented an opportunity that couldn’t be passed over. These days, Mike is surrounded by the open wheel racing culture. He is working with a racing entrenched promotions company directly involved with the planning and execution of sponsorship events on the IndyCar schedule.

With Covid and the black flag out on the year 2020, Mike found himself working from home. However, even with this, he threw “all in”. He treated his home work area like a place of business. He got up and dressed for work and did his job just as if he was in the office.

(Did he drive the Porsche around the block to simulate the drive in to work…? Maybe…)

This year, 2021, is a hodge podge puzzle of wait and see… Fans and attendance at racing events is still on shaky ground but Mike’s work continues. Racing and the events that make it come together are still whirling in the background.

Mike Paris is there keeping things moving and at the ready for racing. If you see him at the track, give him a “Thank You” wave. He’s earned it.

Below are just a few photos from a large catalog by Mike Paris. All images are copyright / owned by Mike Paris. Duplication without permission prohibited.

That was entertaining. Perhaps even more so for those race fans that tune in to watch NASCAR but don’t dive in to all the nuts and bolts of the news and bits. These are the folks that may have gotten a surprise by watching the opening laps of the Busch Clash. Right hand turns, esses, bus stops and chicanes… It might have been a shock to the system for left turn fans looking for a glimpse of the Daytona 500.

Perhaps they thought someone forgot to take the cones and markers down from that pesky sports care race 2 weeks prior… Whatever the case, it was entertaining. NASCAR cars are heavier than the IMSA cars that ran the ROLEX and it showed with spins and straight line runs off course. Drivers like Kevin Harvick who we’re used to seeing in the top 5 were struggling to stay on the pavement. Some others, such as defending NASCAR Cup Champion Chase Elliott, were taming the turns with a start from the back to the front in the first half of the race.

Lead changes were plenty from straight up racing to pit strategies. Ryan Blaney was on the pole from a random draw. Denny Hamlin quickly took the front a few laps in. Tyler Reddick, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. traded front spots up to the scheduled competition caution at lap 16.

Kurt Busch won off pit road to restart up front but quickly lost it in the first turn. Mid race mishaps included Cole Custer losing power and catching fire around the overheated brakes. The caution put William Byron back on track with a bad tire change that quickly went flat and off the rim.

Kurt Busch won off pit road to restart up front but quickly lost it in the first turn. Mid race mishaps included Cole Custer losing power and catching fire around the overheated brakes. The caution put William Byron back on track with a bad tire change that quickly went flat and off the rim. Truex had missed a turn and had to restart in the back. He came back to the front just to lose it in the dirt and curbs of a chicane and spun the #19 into the garage.

The FedEx #11 of Denny Hamlin might have been the car to beat but he had to pit with half the field with 6 laps to go. Chase Elliott stayed out on older tires and Ryan Blaney took the lead with 2 to go. Elliott wasn’t having and raced hard on the final lap, getting under the #12 in the final chicane. The tires couldn’t hold and he spun Blaney as his own #9 bounced off the curbing. All this allowed Kyle Busch in the #18 M&Ms Toyota to roll past both of them and take the checkers.

Kyle was there when it mattered, ready to roll through the advantage if it presented. With it, he grabbed a second last lap Busch Clash pass for the win. (He did a last lap pass – win in 2012)

Kyle Busch – Busch Clash Winner 2021

The Duels are Thursday. The Daytona 500 is Sunday. ARCA, Camping World and Xfinity run Friday and Saturday. All with standard, left turn Daytona racing. They will remain at Daytona the following week with a full race back on the road course.

If the Busch Clash was any indication, the final February race at Daytona should be a wild one.

Let’s face it. Despite “The Weekend”, the Super Bowl is one day. Racing practically fills 4 weeks at Daytona from the Roar. the Rolex, the Clash, the Duels, the 500 and the Cup Road Course. Throw in the Dixie Vodka at Homestead and you have 5 weeks of racing in Florida.

One weekend in Tampa for the Super Bowl up against all that racing… And we still have barely heard a word from major news. No news anchors discussing their take on Corvettes winning over world wide competition or Acura and Wayne Taylor bringing home a 3rd trophy in a row… No attention on Chase Elliott or Jimmie Johnson competing at the Rolex… No predictions on what commercials will air during the Daytona 500… No talk for weeks about the competitors, the changes in the season or, for that matter, anything to do with racing.

They gave racing some lip service when NASCAR placed a ban on the confederate flag and the reports of the noose incident last year. You would think, even with that, there would at least be some interest on Bubba Wallace and his new team, 23XI Racing, with owners Denny Hamlin and NBA Hall of Famer, Michael Jordan. No mention of 7 time Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson not running NASCAR and focusing on Indy…

Nauseating minutia for weeks on the Super Bowl… Speed Weeks gets nothing…

OK… Fine… We’ll take award wiining country music artist, Luke Combs, and the Daytona 500, and all that goes with it, as something so special it’s above the realm of the average “talking head”. We’ve had the Roar and the Rolex and we’re ready for the green flag to fly on the Busch Clash at DAYTONA (Tuesday, 2-9). The week continues with the Bluegreen Vacations Duels at DAYTONA (Thursday, 2-11). Friday and Saturday, the 12th and 13th, we’ll have the ARCA Menards Series, The Camping World Truck Series and the XFinity Series.

Sunday the 14th… Valentine’s Day… We’ll take the Daytona 500 and roll on with our 10 month season of motor sport. We’ll take the laps… The average talking heads can stay on script while we go racing and stay fascinated by shiny things going fast.

Now… There are some changes to tuck in your head. We all know Jimmie Johnson retired from full time NASCAR Cup racing. We’re not going to completely rule out that he’ll take the seat from time to time. Alex Bowman will take over the #48. The #88 is out for 2021 but Hendrick brought back the #5 with Kyle Larson at the wheel and back in the NASCAR field following the virtual racing vocal lack of judgement in 2020.

As mentioned, Bubba Wallace is in the #23 for 23XI Racing with team owners Hamlin and Jordan. Petty Motorsports has placed Erik Jones in the iconic #43 as Christopher Bell takes over the #20 at JGR. The Stewart-Haas #14 will have Chase Briscoe in the seat as Clint Bowyer takes a spot in the studio broadcast. The #42, taken over last year by Matt Kenseth, will feature Ross Chastain for 2021.

If you had signature hats for these drivers or numbers, you’ll need new ones… Or be really good at embroidery…

It’s race week at Daytona. Time to put men in tights and football away and go for the checkered flag!

Super Bowl… Why all the hullabaloo…? Television news segments… Interviews… Analysis from every angle… Commercials… Puppies…

It’s ridiculous. The amount of time dedicated to the Super Bowl is insane. It’s not just game day but the preview programing and attention that is all over the place is all kinds of blown up. With that out in the open, here are some questions:

  • When did you last play football?
  • When did you last touch a football?
  • Did you even play football in high school…?
  • Or college…?
  • Have any element of the game of football altered your daily life?

Facts are that few people really play this game. A handful of kids from league play go on to play in high school. A small percentage of them play at a college level. Even fewer go on to the NFL… Beyond that, the safety advances in helmets and gear benefit only the players on the field and do nothing for the “fans” of this game. Unless you are lucky enough to be so geeky in statistics that you actually manage to make a buck on a sport bet there is little actual benefit to the game of football. The general public gets nothing but beer fueled conversation after the last second of play…

How does the innovation in this football helmet help you…?

Now… Compare to motor sports. The Daytona 500 is one week after the Super Bowl. Have you seen any major news preview discussion, interviews or any mention of significance? The Super Bowl has been discussed for weeks… With that, here are some questions:

  • Do you own a car?
  • Do you drive it?
  • When did you last drive?
  • When were you even a passenger in a car?

The Daytona 500, like all car racing, is a testing ground for automotive technology. Fuel economy, braking efficiency, hybrid technology, passenger safety, aerodynamics and suspension… It all has been advanced through motor sport. The tech that is in your car has been directly impacted by the tech that is innovated for racing.

So… The bigger question… Why is there so much attention on football while racing gets barely a side glance of a nod? The attention on motor sport should be much higher when the benefits to the general public are obvious. Cleaner and safer cars… For everybody.

What does football really do for you when your driving your kids to practice?

Ryan Newman (6) crashing with Corey LaJoie (32) – Daytona 500, Feb. 17, 2020

Ryan Newman and Corey Lajoie survived the crash pictured above. The advances of safety in design for racing play major roles on the track and on the street. Can football do that…? Get it now?

It was a Wayne Taylor kind of weekend at Daytona for the Rolex 24. The win for the #10 Konica-Minolta Acura DPi brings 3 consecutive Rolex wins to WTR and 5 total. Filipe Albuquerque took the checkered flag and was joined in Victory Lane by co-drivers Alexander Rossi, Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor. (Wayne Taylor’s son)  Taylor’s younger son, Jordan, was also a winner in GTLM with the #3 Corvette Racing Team.

The final minutes of the race brought a challenge from former Taylor driver Renger van der Zande in the Ganassi #01 Cadillac. A blown tire brought that challenge to an end with an ironic twist as van der Zande was key to Wayne Taylor wins for the 2 previous years. The Ally #48 was there with a charge but could not make up the difference and finished 4.7 seconds back. It was a good show for the Jimmie Johnson team with Kamui Kobayashi , Mike Rockenfeller and Simon Pagenaud.

After 24 hours of racing, 5 of the DPi class cars were on the lead lap at the finish. Mechanical issues put the pole sitting #31 in the garage with 5 hours remaining but the team still managed an 8th place overall.

The LMP2 class was taken by the #18 Era Motorsport ORECA of Dwight Merriman, Kyle Tilley, Ryan Dalziel and Paul-Loup Chatin.

LMP2 winner 2021 ROLEX 24

The LMP3 class, new within the main event to have 5 classes on track, was won by the Riley Motorsports #74 with drivers Scott Andrews, Oliver Askew, Spencer Pigot and Gar Robinson.

LMP3 winner 2021 ROLEX 24

The Corvettes were one and two in GTLM. Jordan Taylor with Nicky Catsburg and Antonio Garcia drove the #3 across first and the #4 crossed shortly behind with the team of Alexander Sims, Tommy Milner and Nick Tandy. The Corvettes were also at the front of the GTLM field following the Motul qualifying the weekend before.

GTLM winner 2021 ROLEX 24

The GTD class also had 5 cars on the lead lap at the finish. Mercedes AMG also proved one and two with the #57 Winward Racing group of Russell Ward, Philip Ellis, Indy Dontje and Maro Engel taking the win. The #75 Sun Energy Mercedes came in 16 seconds back.

GTD winner 2021 ROLEX 24

The next race up on the IMSA WeatherTech schedule is the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts on tap March 17-20. The race is half as long… but a bit more bumpy. The racing season is much the same for 2021. Covid is still with us and a bit bumpy for the start but with a little luck the fans may have an open gate as we go green into the season.