The Daytona 500 is a spectacle, a testament to humanity’s obsession with grandiose entertainment. State-of-the-art machines hurtle around a 2.5 mile track at blistering speeds half-a-thousand times in front of a number of fans often more numerous than the population of a small town. Broadcast cameras capture the race from every vantage point before beaming it out to millions of spectators, complemented by snazzy graphics and the confident tones of a play-by-play and color commentator.
But as three Covenant College students discovered, what was described above does not even scratch the chrome and steel surface of what is needed to make the show possible. Lydia Radmacher, Olivia Sanders and William Wallace joined professor of Sport Management Michaela Kourmoulis on a four-day trip to the Florida facility and received first-hand experience in working on race day for one of the most popular races in the sport.
“We met so many people, and we still didn’t meet a third of the people who were still working,” Mr. Wallace said. “The whole process of the volunteer check in showed how many hundreds of volunteers they need to put on an event.”
As one of hundreds of workers, the students got to try their hand at several jobs over the course of those four days. On Friday, they worked from 3:45 to about 10:30 p.m., manning the escalators and helping fans find where they wanted to go. On Saturday, the students worked from 10:45 in the morning till 9:30 at night, and scanned tickets at the entry gates before helping with crowd control.
“I think that approaching the consumer with as much respect and kindness is preferable,” Ms. Sanders said. “It’s way kinder to approach someone with a smile and ask them to put their mask one, than to yell at them to put it on.
“We just ask that you put your mask on as it makes this event possible and it makes everyone’s enjoyment possible as we try to create a safe environment. So we just try to approach the situation with respect and trying to be hospitable in everything we did.”
On Sunday, the students were asked to help fans find their seats, and Ms. Kourmoulis, who worked with Daytona before taking a role as faculty at Covenant, said this was the day her interns were able to see more of the race. She said that during the rain delay, Olivia, William and Lydia all helped manage the crowds in the concourse while also reminding them to wear masks. The students unfortunately did not see any more of the race, as they had to catch a plane around 6 p.m.
“We got to see some of the race, but the weather was pretty bad the day of the Daytona 500, so we only got to see like 12 laps of it before they postponed it,” Ms. Radmacher said. “Although we barely got to see it, the atmosphere was just amazing. In-person, it’s amazing how fast they’re going and you could hear how loud the roar of the crowd was.”
A common theme for all three students was an appreciation for how complicated and large-scale the Daytona 500 and other huge sporting events are. The number of people needed is sizable and the hours spent working are long.
“A big realization is that sports are just crazy,” Ms. Radmacher continued. “You have to work super long days and it’s exhausting. But it’s also so fun and so rewarding, and we had a fantastic time together, just bonding as a team. It was a joy to be around an environment we love to be around.”
As three of around a dozen applicants, the student interns were chosen after Ms. Kourmoulis realized their resumes and experience levels would mean they wouldn’t be completely lost in the spectacle. Ms. Sanders and Ms. Radmacher are both sport management majors, while Mr. Wallace is an economics major who wants to work in sports. They were originally going to help work the college football championship game, but COVID forced them to change plans to helping at Daytona.
“It was so cool to take things we’ve learned about in classes like sponsorships and event planning and to see how that comes into play together,” Ms. Sanders said. “Seeing all the sponsors, and seeing all the event management come together too.”
The Daytona 500 might have been the first, but it will probably not be the last major event those three students work. All three gained an appreciation or the work, effort, and coordination needed for a sporting event to go smoothly, and all three students said they hoped others can appreciate that too.
“The things you see on TV don’t just come up out of nowhere,” Mr. Wallace said. “Hopefully people can have a lot more appreciation for the people who have been working in NASCAR for decades just to put on the same great event every year, and how kind-hearted they were in dealing with us who had no idea what we were doing. I’d say that we were grateful for the people we were able to work with.”
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