DAYTONA BEACH — It was high noon on opening day of the Daytona Truck Meet and the pageantry of the main event was unfolding on Friday at Daytona International Speedway.
“Are you ready for some burn-outs?” an announcer in a golf cart shouted into his bullhorn. “Who wants to burn those rubbers?”
A roar erupted from the sweaty monster truck fans that packed aluminum bleachers and lined chain link fences under a broiling 90-plus-degree sun next to a paved parking area on the Speedway’s infield.
There, within a rectangular space enclosed by concrete highway barriers, the first truck put pedal to metal in a two-hour competition to burn rubber on asphalt.
The contest is among the daily activities at the Speedway, the official hub of the three-day Truck Meet that will draw some 5,000 oversized vehicles and nearly 40,000 spectators through Sunday in Daytona Beach.
As the engine screamed, the truck started spinning fast in tight circles as a plume of acrid white smoke engulfed both the vehicle and the crowd in the dueling aromas of exhaust fumes and burning rubber.
Boom! Out of the mist came an explosion like a rifle shot.
“Whoa!” shouted a man in the stands. “A tire busted.”
Bang! Another tire exploded.
With each detonation, the crowd gasped with appreciative “oohs” and “ahhs,” the kind usually associated with fireworks displays. As the smoke cleared, the disabled truck wheeled slowly out of the ring to make room for another.
‘Good for hospitality’
On Friday, there was no shortage of trucks in Daytona Beach, as anyone caught in midday gridlock traffic on State Road A1A between International Speedway Boulevard and the Seabreeze Bridge could attest.
For the area’s hospitality industry, the Truck Meet is contributing to a weekend that has packed rooms at many hotels and filled tables at area restaurants, said Bob Davis, president and CEO of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County.
“The beachside hotels are sold-out, so is ISB (International Speedway Boulevard),” Davis said on Friday morning. “It’s good for the hotels on the beachside and the mainland and it will help the restaurants and the gift shops. It’s good for hospitality overall.”
For residents, law enforcement and even some business owners, however, the event also means headaches tied to its history of generating noise, traffic congestion, arrests and a laundry list of rowdy behavior since its inaugural year in 2017.
On Atlantic Avenue, for instance, Daytona Beach Police were observed on Friday afternoon pulling over a truck loaded with half a dozen young men riding in its open bed. Patrol cars and motorcycle units were positioned to do traffic control at intersections all along the beachside’s core tourism district.
As the event approached, Daytona Beach Police made available “Pink P” beachside access passes for beachside residents and workers.
The pass is designed offer 24/7 access to the Main Street drawbridge to motorists who have it displayed on a vehicle dashboard during special events, even if the other bridges connecting the beachside to the mainland are closed for safety reasons.
The procedure was re-implemented in the wake of bridge closures that occurred during the height of the busy Memorial Day weekend holiday. By midweek, Daytona Beach Police Chief Jakari Young said 4,500 of the passes had been distributed.
Because of the flood of interest, Young asked Davis to put out the word to his association membership that police have no intention on closing the bridges during this weekend’s event.
“The Pink Ps are being provided as a courtesy to residents, business owners and employees of the beachside, but somehow it has created mass hysteria!” Young wrote in his email. “People somehow have this belief that the Pink P is the only way they will be able to access the beachside and that’s just not true. Everybody just needs to relax and they will be able to get wherever it is that they need to go. I promise!”
At the Speedway infield on Friday, things were as mellow as imaginable for an event that celebrates, noise, power and speed. Since event organizers didn’t offer media access to cover the event, the News-Journal purchased a weekend spectator pass for $35 (including fees) to report on the activities.
On the midway, vendors touted products that ranged from high-powered turbo-charge kits capable of generating up to 1,000 horsepower to tires that stood as tall as a 6-foot person.
Dalton Lovejoy and Maddie Heater, of Ohio-based Dude’s Fab Shop, created a stir merely by exiting their custom-build 2020 GMC Denali, lifted to a roof height of 13 feet above the ground. With the floor of the cab nearly six feet in the air, Heater had to hoist herself onto a 58-inch front tire and then lift herself through the door.
A TikTok video of the process has generated 30 million views, she said.
The customized truck represents an investment of roughly $200,000 by its Texas-based owner, Lovejoy said. “From the factory to buy this truck is almost $100,000,” Lovejoy said.
The chance to eyeball such creations attracted fans such as Rob Price and Joel Bernard, who work together in an automotive custom-shop in Hanover, Massachusetts.
“This is better than anything we have up there,” said Price, sipping on a tallboy Bud Light. “It’s crazy some of these builds. We had one we wanted to bring down with us, but it’s still in the shop. Hopefully, we can bring it next year.”
Nearby, Devin Freeman, 27, and his friend Andrew Gordon, 28, of Orlando, also had hopes of someday bringing their own monster trucks to the show.
“We’re just out here looking to get ideas for our own set-ups,” Freeman said. “This is really good.”