NASCAR is one of those uniquely American things, much like baseball, Mount Rushmore, and Chuck Norris. Oh, and corn whiskey, also known as moonshine, white lightning, and mountain dew. That’s where the popular motorsport got its start at least; rum runners evading the lawman in souped-up cars barreling down back roads like the Duke Boys. It was all in an effort to make a living off selling illegally brewed alcohol without paying taxes on it.

Over the years the illicit practice of rum running morphed into what is now the National Association of Stock Car Racing, attracting fans the world over to its high speeds and memorable drivers.

Earlier this NASCAR season, I had the chance at a behind-the-scenes look into the cars, pit crews, and drivers – all off the track but still turning wrenches and dressed in Nomex. Except for Aric Almirola, driver of the 43 car, I actually drove him around the track in the back of a Toyota Tundra. But those details are down below.

Behind the Scenes at the 2015 NASCAR Budweiser Duel Exterior
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My day started like any other. I spent the morning behind my keyboard hammering out news about the latest thing happening in this crazy automotive world we live in. I had to be in Daytona at noon and the day’s travels would be short. Living only 30 miles south of the Daytona International Speedway certainly has its advantages. Then again, the Jaguar F-Type R Coupe sitting in my driveway begged to be driven to Talladega, or better yet, Bristol, beyond the rolling hills of East Tennessee. Suddenly the 45-minute sprint to Daytona just wasn’t enough to quench my need for speed. Ah, but then, the day would be full of fast cars and high-octane fuel.

Upon my arrival at the overnight accommodations, a 2015 Camry awaited, courtesy of Toyota, which had also organized this up-skirt look of that night’s race. A map inside the car detailed a route that ran along the world’s most famous beach. At this point, I was only one rental car away from being Tom Cruise in Days of Thunder. The brisk Thursday morning found nary a soul on the sand as I drove long the Atlantic Ocean. Serenity can be found at Daytona Beach on race day.

Behind the Scenes at the 2015 NASCAR Budweiser Duel Exterior
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Behind the Scenes at the 2015 NASCAR Budweiser Duel Exterior
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Behind the Scenes at the 2015 NASCAR Budweiser Duel Exterior
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After a quick bite of lunch with some fellow journalists, I was off to the track. The monstrous tones of straight-piped V-8s echoed in the distance as we drove through the tunnel under turn two. Drivers in the Camping World truck series were already taking practice laps for the next day’s race. A short time and a long hike later, I found myself in the paddock walking among the car haulers and pit-crew members of the various race teams. Everyone hustled with a purpose, their game faces firmly in place as they concentrated on their respective jobs. Out of the chaos comes Clint Bowyer, driver of the number 15 car for Toyota.

Behind the Scenes at the 2015 NASCAR Budweiser Duel Exterior
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Behind the Scenes at the 2015 NASCAR Budweiser Duel Exterior
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Behind the Scenes at the 2015 NASCAR Budweiser Duel Exterior
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After some lighthearted laughs about his current racing stats, Bowyer jumped into how he got into the sport. Turns out his background includes a slew of two-wheeled racing in motocross. And like a few of his competitors, he got his hands dirty wrenching on cars in a shop in his hometown of Emporia, Kansas. An old Chevy Monte Carlo served as the classroom where he and his buddies would swap in a junkyard engine during the week in preparation for the weekend races at the local speedway. A few years and wins under his belt got him noticed as a driver and the rest is history.
Listen to the interview in the audio recording below

Despite all the happenings that afternoon, it wasn’t until the sun fell behind the grandstands that things really heated up. The race was only an hour from the green flag when I was escorted to a 2015 Toyota Tundra. Covered in Toyota and NASCAR livery, the truck waved an American flag from its bed in preparation for the driver introductions – and I happened to be doing the introducing. Well, in a way.

Behind the Scenes at the 2015 NASCAR Budweiser Duel
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Behind the Scenes at the 2015 NASCAR Budweiser Duel
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Behind the Scenes at the 2015 NASCAR Budweiser Duel
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My truck fell towards the back of the pack of similar Tundras piloted by the other journalists as we pulled single-file onto pit road from the infield track. Each truck was to pick up a driver and chauffeur him down the front straight. Aric Almirola, driver of the number 43 car and member of the Richard Petty racing team, happened to be my passenger standing in the bed. The crowd’s deafening screams grew louder as the convoy of trucks made the turn from pit road onto the track. As we drove down the straight, I felt as if I was escorting royalty, or perhaps a mega star across the world’s stage. And surprisingly enough, that feeling proved true – at least in the world of stock car racing.

The temperature dropped with the lowering sun as the flags waved the 2015 Budweiser Duels into action. The unseasonable cold weather put temperatures into the mid 30s. Though my feet felt frostbitten and numb with pain, the V-8’s roaring down below loved the chilled air. Each cylinder of these hand-built engines churns out roughly 100 horsepower, providing the punch these steel and fiberglass cars need to break 200 mph between corners. The sound is immense – thunderous really. Each exhaust valve channels air into pipes free of mufflers or catalytic converters. Fans with front-row seats might find themselves with a thumping headache after 120 laps and two rounds of racing.

As the checker flag dropped on the first duel of the night, Dale Earnhardt Jr. pulled out a win with Clint Bowyer not far behind in fifth place. Jimmy Johnson pulled off a first-place victory as the second duel wrapped up late into the night. Now with the starting positions set for Saturday’s Daytona 500 thanks to the finishing order of these duels, the drivers retired back to their RVs as I retired back to a very warm hotel room.

2015 Jaguar F-Type R Coupe - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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The next day’s drive home found me even more thankful for the boisterous exhaust of the supercharged, 5.0-liter V-8 under my F-Type’s hood. It might not have been a set of straight pipes, but it was the closest thing I could get to reliving the previous day’s experiences.

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