By David G. Firestone
The 57th running of the Daytona 500 is tomorrow! I know, I can’t keep my excitement to myself either! Jeff Gordon is on the pole, the 43 car field has been set, and tomorrow, the 2015 NASCAR season starts. The major change to the format will be on pit road, where a camera system will be used to help catch penalties. This system was tested during the Chase last year, and supposedly proved itself very effective, so we will see how this works.
The prize these drivers are all racing for, aside from the prestige, is the Harley J. Earl trophy. Earl was the second commissioner of NASCAR, designer of the Corvette, and designed the futuristic Firebird I in 1953, a small model of which adorns the trophy. It was first awarded in 1959 to Lee Petty. The original trophy is housed in The Daytona 500 Experience, and is 5 feet wide, by 4 feet tall. The winner is awarded a miniature version, which is 18 by 22 inches, and has a miniature version of the Firebird car mounted on top.
Interestingly, NASCAR, a multibillion, multinational group relies on one man, and one man only, to make the trophy. His name is John Liba, and he is based in Omaha, Nebraska. His first attempt was in 1998, and was awarded to Dale Earnhardt Sr. The first trophy he made was on a marble base, which was much too heavy, so he switched to black acrylic. To make the miniature Harley J. Earl trophy, it takes 6 weeks, of 12 hour work days, and that does not include plating the trophy.
I’ve always found it interesting how NASCAR uses John Liba to make the Harley J. Earl trophy, but uses Tiffany and Company to make the Sprint Cup Trophy. I like the idea of leagues using individuals, not large companies for trophies and awards. It’s the same as Boffey Silversmiths of Montreal engraving the names on the Stanley Cup after each season. The most renowned trophy in the sport of hockey goes to an individual to get engraved. That just blows me away.
When I went to the Penske Racing Museum, I saw the special version made in 2008. This was done to commemorate the 50th running, and was plated in gold rather than silver.
That race was won by Ryan Newman, and is still on display at the museum. The car he ran is also there, and interestingly was signed by the crew after the race.
This is the biggest event on the NASCAR calender, and always lives up to the hype. The ending of the race is like the 9th inning in the final game of the World Series. The last 2.5 miles of the race is nail biting. Anything can and has happened during that final lap. It has seen legends achieve their lifelong dreams, and rookies stamp their place in history. Legends like Gordon, Earnhardt, Petty, Parsons, Andretti, Foyt, Allison, Waltrip, Yarborough, Harvick, Johnson, Jarrett, and Kenseth, as well as unknowns like Cope, Burton, Marlin, and Bayne have visited victory lane. The big question is…who will join them in 2015.
Here is how the field will line up
Did Not Qualify