The Daytona 500 brings back a lot of wonderful memories. For several years in the 1960s I had the opportunity to attend the race, but my initial trip to Florida did not include attending the event. My good friend Larrie Johnson and I made a trip to Florida, which wasn’t during the “speed weeks” of February. We toured the state and were impressed with the city of Daytona and the track.
We made plans to go to the race the following February. Since we were so impressed with the number of large hotels located in the beach area, we didn’t think we would have to make reservations ahead of time.
That was a big mistake. When we arrived in Daytona we could not find any vacancies. We got information that some residents were renting rooms in their homes. We stopped at a business and picked up a small list of homes that had rooms for rent.
We visited a home in a suburb of Daytona and the lady, Mrs. Hartzell, showed us a room and said it would cost $15 per day. We had planned on a hefty price for our accommodations. Larrie and I must have looked at each other with surprised expressions on our faces. Mrs. Hartzell mistook our looks as we might think she was charging too much. She quickly added that it would include breakfast.
We couldn’t accept quickly enough. We attended several races. There were even drag races on the backstretch of the Daytona track in the evenings.
For the next few years I enjoyed returning to Daytona. Our group of guys increased to four. We always stayed with Maw Hartzell, and she always provided us a great breakfast. We got to know her family; her son was the main chef for the astronauts at Cape Canaveral.
We saw Richard Perry win a couple of times and saw Fred Lorenzen win. We attended qualifications and races from midweek to the the Daytona 500 on Sunday.
We also enjoyed the festivities on the beach. It was so nice to get away from Indiana weather for a week. I could always put up with any cold weather when we returned from Florida. This was when my dad operated his Sunoco service station on Madison Avenue. We were outside quite a bit then.
When there were four of us on the trip, we drove straight through on the way home. This was when interstates were being constructed. There might be times during our trip when we might have a 30- or 40-mile stretch of road that was finished and open, but there would be no connections to another part of interstate. Lots of people wouldn’t drive on them for that short distance.
We tested out these new highways. It was fun to drive those distances and be one of the only vehicles on the road. We also got pretty good at changing drivers while driving on these highways with no other vehicles on the road; we rotated in a counter-clockwise direction. This is something I do not recommend now.
Several years after we ended our annual trips to Daytona, I was in Florida on a business trip and contacted Maw Hartzell. We got together for an evening and had a wonderful time.
Shonk is a 1960 graduate of Southport High School, a ’63 grad of Indiana Central College (now the University of Indianapolis) and a retired bus driver from Beech Grove Schools.