David Ragan knows his way around Daytona International Speedway. And, after Wednesday, that familiarity involves much more than the famed 2.5-mile race track itself.
Ragan visited the “World Center of Racing” to help promote the 61st annual Coke Zero Sugar 400 on July 6, the annual midseason midsummer event at DIS for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Ragan won the race in 2011, one of two Monster Energy Series victories in his career.
Wednesday was basically a “DIS immersion” experience for Ragan, one that started with him and Daytona International Speedway President Chip Wile fishing on Lake Lloyd, the 29-acre body of water in the speedway’s infield. Both Ragan and Wile caught several bass before heading over to a barbecue lunch in the speedway’s Boardwalk Club; Ragan assisted Americrown chefs in grilling hamburgers for the media crowd on hand.
Post-lunch, Ragan headed for the speedway ticket office. The highlight of this stop was a no-brainer: a chance to meet Juanita ‘Lightnin’ Epton, the speedway’s oldest employee who turns 99 in July – and one of its first. Put it this way. She worked the very first DAYTONA 500 in 1959.
“Lightnin’ is an inspiration,” Ragan said. “Just to be moving around and living on your own when you’re 99 [is impressive], much less showing up for work. She’s working, selling tickets and she’s pretty sharp. That shows you the influence that the France family has had not only on our whole sport but [specific] individuals like her who have been around and been part of this stock car world for a long time.”
Post-Lightnin’, while Ragan had history on his mind, he visited the ISC Archives & Research Center and took particular pride in seeing the collection of historical photos of his father Ken Ragan, who raced in the Monster Energy Series from 1983-93. Ragan wrapped up his immersion by meeting with speedway sales team members.
In 25 Daytona International Speedway starts, Ragan has three top-five finishes and five top 10s. Those statistics translate to some inherent optimism at the famed high banks for the driver of the No. 38 Ford for Front Row Motorsports, as the Coke Zero Sugar 400 approaches. A victory can earn Ragan a berth in the NASCAR Playoffs, which are contested over the final 10 races of the Monster Energy Series season.
“My very first DAYTONA 500 I finished fifth; I left and thought ‘man, this is easy’ but I realized [later] it wasn’t that easy,” Ragan said. “But over the years I’ve had good coaches and good race cars. I got some confidence here early in my career and throughout the last five or six years I’ve enjoyed coming here knowing I can make a difference behind the wheel, make the right moves, see things fixing to happen that I’ve thought about and I’ve planned about.”
With the advent of the NASCAR Playoffs, a victory in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 will assure Ragan a playoff berth – provided he finishes the 26-race “regular season” in the top 30 in points while also attempting to start every race.
“Now, that just puts so much more pressure on the line,” Ragan said. “If you’re in contention to win, you’re going to lay it all on the line.”
Tickets for the Coke Zero Sugar 400 Weekend on July 4-6 and all Daytona International Speedway events can be purchased online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP. Fans can stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Snapchat, and by downloading Daytona International Speedway’s mobile app, for the latest speedway news.