I will get to the Daytona Truck Meet — the WORST event in Daytona Beach — in a few paragraphs. But let’s begin with something better.
I attended new Daytona Beach City Manager Deric Feacher’s meeting with the public at the Dickerson Center in Midtown early in the evening on Thursday, June 10.
It was a good meeting. Feacher made it clear that he expects to see a more proactive and energetic effort at City Hall to address the city’s issues. But he also didn’t promise pie in the sky, understanding that while he handles day-to-day operations of city staff, it’s the City Commission that sets overall policy.
Feacher also took insightful questions from the 200 or so people who attended. Of the dozen or so questions he answered, one stood out not because of Feacher’s answer to it, but because it was clearly important to nearly everyone in the audience. I don’t recall the exact wording, but the question was essentially this: What can Daytona Beach do to project a better image of itself to the rest of the world?
It’s a question that’s critical to every segment of Daytona Beach, and frankly, to all the other cities that make up the Daytona Beach area. The question also comes with an assumption that Daytona Beach’s current image isn’t what it should be.
No one I know has a perfect definition of the area’s current image, but here are some key parts of it, including the good and not so good:
• Daytona Beach and its neighboring cities are located along a beautiful stretch of the Atlantic Ocean ideally situated to attract tourists who want to enjoy the beach.
• Motorsports are part of our heritage, beginning in the early 20th Century when drivers used our hard-packed beaches to set speed records, and extending to the present-day races at Daytona International Speedway. That history is one reason why beach driving is important to so many people.
• Our cost of living is low in comparison to other parts of Florida and the rest of the country.
• Unfortunately, our No. 1 industry — tourism — pays low wages. Daytona Beach’s per capita annual income in 2019 was $24,360, and a quarter of the community lives in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
• Two particular neighborhoods in Daytona Beach — Midtown and the core beachside neighborhood between Seabreeze and East International Speedway Boulevard — suffer from neglect.
• Daytona Beach has a somewhat unfair reputation as a hotspot for crime.
• Daytona Beach is known as an “events” city. Some, like the Daytona 500, make us internationally famous. Others make us infamous.
I drove away from the community meeting feeling hopeful because Feacher projected energy and action and optimism.
But on the way home, I also encountered that part of our image involving “infamous” events.
It was the beginning of the Daytona Truck Meet weekend that has become an annual event for the last five years. As I drove down Nova Road, a Dodge pickup with very over-sized wheels and lots of “accessories” pulled alongside me.
The bearded young man driving it punched the gas, then he cut into my lane, nearly taking the front end of my truck with him. He honked a horn that sounded like a train, and for good measure, rolled down his window and gave me the finger.
City residents endured similar obnoxious behavior throughout the weekend. State Road A1A on the beachside suffered near-gridlock, especially Saturday night. As Police Chief Jakari Young described it in a statement, what law enforcement had to endure through the weekend was “not for the faint at heart.” The behavior of some of those driving the big trucks put lives in danger — including the lives of law enforcement.
I find it hard to be forgiving toward those troublemakers whose daddies bought them big trucks so they could treat Daytona Beach with disrespect. The Speedway should not let the event’s sponsors to use their facility again. Volusia County’s Convention and Visitors Bureau shouldn’t use a taxpayer-financed website to give the event publicity.
Here’s the real problem: We allow this sort of event because some people are making money from it. But the truck meet takes a toll on Daytona Beach’s image to the outside world. Then we wonder why it’s difficult to attract businesses with higher-paying jobs that would give our children a reason to plant roots.
The Daytona Beach area is a great place to visit and a great place to live. That should be our image — not big trucks, too many of which are filled with jerks.
Rice is The News-Journal’s editor. His email is [email protected]