Car culture is often very mercurial in nature. Perhaps it’s a result of social media’s newfound role in it all, perhaps it’s that tuning cars has been glamorized by the likes television and general media in recent years. Nonetheless, I think it’s safe to say that a common complaint is that true automotive enthusiasm has fallen by the wayside of the chase for temporary social media fame. So why was Rolex 24 2015 so enjoyable? Because for those 24 hours (or four days, depending) those barriers and stigmas didn’t exist. I can’t believe it’s taken me so many years to finally experience Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway.
Rolex is a place for gearheads of all varieties to celebrate their love of the motor together. Whether you’re a diehard motorsports fan attending to support your favorite team or a newcomer to the car world looking to learn, there’s something for everyone. For three days straight I never heard someone bash a certain make or model, or style or driver, it was all genuine, wholehearted, gasoline-soaked bliss.
Despite arriving in the midst of a gnarly rainstorm, I knew I was in the right place from the moment we passed under the Turn 1 tunnel. Through a field of motorhomes I saw Turn 1 to my right, the infield and its hairpin to my left, and even though the drone of cars circling the track was absent, I knew this was my new favorite place. I arrived at my campsite for the weekend, care of my darling lady and our Floridian friends (Simply Clean and HighwayStar Garage) after a long drive, shared a few beers with old friends, and passed out—but it wasn’t long before I was wide awake to the sound of the Ferrari Challenge on Saturday morning!
We made our way out of the campground, through the pits, and eventually across the main infield lawn before having a seat on the track looking on as the pre-race festivities ensued. I noticed flags being walked through down a lane surrounded by fans and had to get closer to take a look. There I found each car being paraded through the pits, drum majors carrying the flag’s of each driver’s homeland, and I instantly knew, before even hearing a car start, that this was going to be my favorite event of the year.
Before we knew it, the race had started and the cars were off. From our campsite we could see from the entrance of Turn 3 to the exit of Turn 4 (of Daytona’s main oval), and no matter where you find yourself there’s undoubtedly a part of the race within sight. The afternoon continued, and as the sun began to fall lower in the afternoon sky we lit the bonfire up and continued our celebration.
The celebration was, of course, cut short by my eagerness to get over to the infield hairpins to shoot before and during sunset. We walked around the infield and I began scouting for the perfect spot. I didn’t want to get overly-consumed with shooting the event, so I wasn’t equipped with press credentials. I quickly realized that I was one of hundreds fighting for a spot along the chainlink fence behind those working photographers with proper passes. Challenge accepted!
I’ll be the first to admit that going through the proper channels to obtain credentials would’ve been much easier than shooting from behind a fence and sea of other photographers. That said, I welcome the challenge and knew that, at the end of the day, shooting Rolex was purely for my own enjoyment (and the MTM blog, of course!). While it was definitely more arduous, I found myself sitting back and just watching and enjoying the race, the cars, and the sunset.
After the sun crept below the horizon it was time to catch the iconic ferris wheel—I mean, what Rolex piece would be complete with the obligatory ferris wheel photo?! So we walked around to the other side of the infield and found a spot along the fence, again shooting through it, from behind the official photographers. While I was prepared with a platform (5-gallon bucket) to stand on and raise my point-of-view above the fence, I found myself completely content shooting through instead, and rarely found myself shooting wide and slow enough that the links were even visible (except maybe this shot, haha!). Overall, though, as a general spectator I was blown away at how many places one could shoot and view the race from!
From there we walked back toward the campground, through the garages, and stumbled upon one of the other neat parts about Rolex24—garage access. Anyone with the garage pass was able to walk into a garage and watch a team work on a car, in this case replacing the gearbox for this Porsche. Quite a neat opportunity for the absolute gearhead or beginning enthusiast alike, and not a commonly-found chance in other realms of racing.
Throughout the rest of the evening we ventured to the backstretch grandstands for a view of the chicane. One of the most impressive features of the track, the backstretch chicane brings cars traveling around 200mph back down to a mere 80-100mph whilst they navigate the two back-to-back turns, providing a great opportunity to capture motion in a variety of ways—both tracking cars with their glowing brakes and long exposures of taillight trails!
To finish off the evening we hopped on the ferris wheel. Claimed as being the tallest in operation the east coast of the US, Daytona Speedway’s ferris wheel provided a 360° view of the track, as well as a unique perspective of the fireworks that happened to take place during our ride—AND whilst at the top of the wheel! An epic ending to an epic day, but the race wasn’t even halfway over.
We found ourselves falling asleep to the sound of ±30,000 horsepower circling the raceway and then, some hours later, waking to the same—next to a beach house in Hawaii, my favorite way to wake up! After walking around a bit and packing up the campsite, we found ourselves sitting back and taking in the last hour of the race, and before we knew it, the track was eerily quiet. And while the Daytona 500 will bring its thunder in a couple weeks, I think it’s safe to say that the fireworks that are Rolex24 won’t be back for another 363 days!