Back in the day (not so long ago, really), they used to race the Daytona 24 Hours without the lights that make the front stretch as light as day and provide a lot of visibility in the infield throughout the long night hours. (It didn't look like this photo, that's for sure.)
Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to visit with "Uncle Stan," Stan Laughlin, a great guy who was a crew chief for a lot of different racers over the years (thanks to Barb and Mary!). He told us that Daytona was his favorite race of all, and he had enough data to back that up: he was crew chief there 18 times, from 1969 to 1986.
He repeated what others have said, that the big thing is daylight. You start the race mid- or late-afternoon on Saturday, and by the time the sun comes up the next morning, he said, "you feel like you've almost won the race." Even though there are still nine hours left to run....
When I confirmed his experience was all pre-extensive-lighting, he laughed (almost snorted) and said, "of course, we did the real stuff!" I believe him.
He has tons of great stories, ranging from stories of rule-pushing among different teams in the paddock (things were a lot less regulated then, let's just say), to fans with (let's call them) interesting ambitions, to wild stories of daredevil pilots and the injuries they had to live with after wrecking.
Also, you should watch a race with a crew chief, because it's a whole different experience. The guy he likes the most in NASCAR? Chad Knaus. And we bonded over appreciating Tony Stewart.
I'm not going to say a whole lot because a) they might end up in my writing in some form, and b) I'm hoping Stan himself will write about them. But I learned a lot about how a crew chief ultimately needs to be a problem-solver ... as well as a smooth talker. (Did I mention he was crew chief for John Paul?)
I'm telling you Uncle Stan, you need to write this stuff down! Or let me return with a tape recorder. Either way, I'm game.