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Born on the 3rd of July

July 6, 2011
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My boys (Spencer and Jack) and I just returned from Daytona Beach, Florida after a pretty spectacular weekend at the Coke 400. Spencer, my middle child, turned 10 years old this past Sunday, July 3, and he spent his birthday weekend in high style.

Since Chevrolet sponsors the Florida Insider television show that I co-host, they invited the crew of captains that make up the show to come to Daytona for the race, do some seminars in their booth and take part in the pre-race festivities. (I’ll get back to the pre-race festivities in a second.)

The trip started on Friday with a tour of the Costa Del Mar sunglass factory. Costa is also a sponsor of the show and an advertiser in Marlin magazine, so it was treat to see where and how they make a pair of sunglasses. We watched as skilled workers ground each glass lens one at a time and other machines cutting high-tech plastics into lenses in less than 7 seconds. It was a pretty amazing process and it shed a little light on why a good pair of sunglasses can set you back a pretty penny. You get what you pay for, and when you choose to buy a pair of Costa’s you get some of the best sunglasses money can buy – and I’d say the same thing if they never bought an ad (or my lunch) again. After the tour we enjoyed a nice barbeque lunch on Costa’s tab and then headed over to the hotel.

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Now, I don’t know if you remember how exciting it can be for a kid to spend the night in a hotel, but let me just say, as soon as the boys hit the door, the crap hit the fan. I was feeling pretty lenient since it was just the guys on the trip, so I let them get a little stress out with some bed hopping. And yeah, I admit it; I took a turn or two as well.

Rick Murphy, the star of the show, brought his two boys along (Ridge and Colin) and since they are close to the same ages as my boys, they all hit it off pretty good, playing X-box into the wee hours of the night and terrorizing the other guests in the pool.

On race day we headed out to the Chevy stage and started chumming up an audience by tossing out hundreds of soft baits made by Trigger X. Once we got a nice crowd, we started doing our seminars — Capt. Russell Tharin did some knot tying, Capt. Geoff Page threw the cast net and I tried to tell folks how to take some good pictures of their catch.

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Since I know racecar driver Jeff Burton from doing his blog last year on his Jarrett Bay build, I called him up the week before to see if I could introduce my boys at the race. He said sure and set up a ride into the infield of the track and tour of the garage. We pulled up to Burton’s beautiful motor coach and he brought out his whole family to meet the boys and talk a little bit about his boat and how he was looking forward to going fishing after the race. (His boy Harrison caught his first sailfish a couple of days later!)

After our visit we had to get back to the booth for the pre-race festivities. As part of this whole deal, we were given the opportunity to drive the drivers around the track in a brand new Silverado for the introductions. The boys and I piled into a nice blue one and, after a brief skirmish over who would ride up front, then played follow the leader around the infield and down onto pit road to pick up the drivers. Of course, I was hoping to get Burton, so I tried to get a truck that was 12 positions from the back to match Burton’s starting position — they were loading the drivers from lowest start to pole and Jeff was starting 12th. I miscalculated – yes, I’m a journalism major — by about three cars and we ended up getting Greg Biffle.

Once we picked up Biffle we started around the track, heading down the straightaway at a blistering 25 mph with over 100,000 fans screaming their heads off! It was quite a sight and an experience I’m sure the boys will never forget!

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Still buzzing from our ride around the track, we headed for our seats. We missed the start, but it didn’t keep us from cheering Burton on for the rest of the race. My birthday boy Spencer really got into it and tracked Jeff’s car like a laser – giving me an update every time he moved up in the field. Late in the race with maybe 20 laps to go, Burton and his teammate moved up to the front and raced with the leaders for quite awhile, even leading briefly — giving us a glimmer of hope. But alas, it wasn’t to be. A couple of nasty wrecks dropped Burton back a bit and then on the final lap Burton was sideswiped by another driver and was sent into the wall — finishing 21st.

Even though I grew up 60 miles from Daytona, I’ve never been a big race fan, but I’ll tell you what, if you get the chance to attend a big NASCAR race, go. You may not come away a fan for life, but you’ll certainly enjoy the experience. The people watching alone if worth the price of admission.

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