Mike Shaul, a Boulder local, has known about the Daytona International Speedway for as long as he can remember. Memories of cars flashing past the chain fences and the smell of combusting gasoline in the air circle around his head, more than catchy songs do, he said.
He hasn't missed a Daytona 500 race since 1979.
In honor of loyal ticket holders, Daytona has named Shaul, 53, and his son, Jake, 13, as "Fans of Steel." The two-dozen handpicked fans — the Shauls traveled furthest for the honor — were recognized in a ceremony at the speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., on Nov. 6.
"We flew down to Florida and they treated us like royalty," Mike Shaul said. "We were the stars that day, they told us, and they were so nice to us. It was way more than I expected, and when we left there, we couldn't stop talking about the day."
That day, they signed a 30-foot steel beam that will be used in the new front-stretch grandstands, as part of the $400 million Daytona Rising redevelopment project, which by 2016, will re-face the iconic speedway.
"It's more about carrying on a tradition that my dad passed onto me. I know he is going to be thrilled that his last name is up on the track," Shaul said.
The two also took hot laps around the track and met the DIS President, Joie Chitwood.
Shaul has been watching NASCAR since he was a kid, before it was televised on a national scale. His father began bringing him and his brother to the races in the early '60s. Unfortunately, Shaul said that though his father is a long-time fan and sparked his own interest all those years ago, he is unable to attend in person these days due to health reasons.
"Knowing it was something my dad started, and is something my brother and I are carrying on, which we are passing to our sons, who will probably carry it on for many years and pass to their sons — it was special, something I will never forget, and same with my son. It was hard to believe we were there and doing it."
While Shaul was attending flight school at Embry-Riddle University in 1978, which is located off turn three and four of the track, he had front row seats year after year, alongside his brother, who is also a fan.
Shaul's profession has made it easier to make it to the race every year.
"In fairness, I am an airline pilot, so traveling that far isn't that bad. I do it every day I go to work," Shaul said.
Mike and Jake will travel to their second race of the year on Saturday, the Ford EcoBoost 300, which will end the NASCAR Nationwide Series and the season. They will continue the tradition by meeting his brother and family at the race, carrying on the love for NASCAR started by their father.
"There are two days on the calendar I mark — Christmas and the Daytona 500," Shaul said. "Those are my two days that I make sure I know where I am."
Contact Gavin B. Griffin at email@example.com