Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona kicks off Speedweeks 2018

Episode 197

January 31, 2018

It’s Daytona time and Caribou’s Griffeth hits it out-of-the-park with his logo

Sir Malcolm Campbell’s record-setting Blue Bird II is the image captured by Jason Griffeth and crew in the turf at the start/finish line at Daytona International Speedway. Photo courtesy of Daytona International Speedway

Griffeth’s turf design was based on photos of Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Blue Bird II at Daytona Beach in 1931 when he went 245 mph. He bettered his speed in 1935 with a 276 mph run on the beach at Daytona. Later that year he broke the 300 mph barrier with a 301 two run average speed at Bonneville. The car was powered by a supercharged 36.7 liter 2500 + hp Rolls Royce engine. Photo courtesy Florida

A mixture of perennial rye grass and annual rye grass carefully planted in the intricate pattern of the Campbell Blue Bird II took place in November 2107. Griffeth and crew has nurtured the turfgrass for the biggest speed events in the world.

Mowing, fertilizing, and watering combined with the addition of the Daytona logo by another specialty company, has made the design come alive for the motorsports events in January and February. The front stretch tri-oval is probably one of the most photographed areas at the speedway.

Griffeth, a Class of 2000 Caribou High School graduate and member of the first CHS Hall of Fame Inductees, worked at Fenway Park as the assistant for 14.5 years before taking over the Head of Grounds position at Daytona International Speedway (DIS) in November 2016.

In addition to the turf within the DIS property, he manages several acres of off-site turf used for parking lots and hay. The son of Robert and Lona Griffeth of Cross Lake, he attributes much of his work ethic to working on his father’s potato fields when he was growing up.

The beautiful turf grass in the tri-oval will give way to the Bike Week events after the Daytona 500 on February 18. Almost immediately after the 500, a flat track motorcycle track will be built on the front stretch with 8 inches of clay making up the track. Part of the track will include pit lane while the rest will be built on the area planted with turf grass currently.

On top of the flat track will be a world-class motocross track designed by world champion Ricky Carmichael. The crew will have less than 24 hours after the mot-cross race to remove all traces of clay and soil from the racing surfaces when the powerful speedway bikes take over the track.

A pdf of the 2018 Supercross track designed by Ricky Carmichael with races scheduled for March 10-13, 2018. Beneath that will be the TT flat track clay course to be used on March 15th. DIS photo

Jason and his crew will be busy the weeks leading up to the Bike Week as well as during the week. Once bike week is done they will sprig the tri-oval grass area and have it ready for the July 7 Coke Zero 400.

My favorite hamburger is made by Daytona Brickyard on International Speedway Boulevard in Daytona. Jason Griffeth (left) took time out of his busy schedule to join my helpers Philip Miller (center) and my brother Bill (right) for hamburgers Friday afternoon before he went to the track. HTF Motorsports photo

Highlights of racing action at Daytona

THe UNOH Fanzone featured a couple dozen vintage race cars. One such example was the 1950 Cadillac “Le Monstre” (right) so named by the French press at Le Mans 1950. It was the first American car to race Le Mans since 1935. Rules allowed “rebodying” which was done by aeronautical engineer Howard Weinman for owner Briggs Cunningham. It was 13 mph faster than the stock Cadillac Series 61. It’s stock engine featured a 5 carburetor intake. “Le Monstre” finished 11th. HTF Motorsports photo

The recent death of racing icon Dan Gurney earlier this month was on the mind of several race teams who carried his memorial decal throughout the race. Miller Motorsports Oreca numbers 85 and 99 were two such examples. HTF Motorsports photo

Ford up and coming drivers Austin Cindric on left and Chase Briscoe right in pre-race festivities before the four-hour BMW Endurance Challenge race. They both raced in ARCA with Champion Austin Theriault in 2017. The duo placed 21st after an early race incident with the #99 Aston Martin driven by Steven Phillips. Cindric raced the 24 hour race the next day with #85 Miller Motorsports which finished 6th in DPi . Bill Hale photo

JDC-Miller Motorsports #85 Cindric shared with Trummer, Alon, and DeFrancesco. They placed 6th overall. HTF Motorsports photo

Ford Chip Ganassi #67 Ford GT driven by Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, and Scott Dixon placed first in GTLM. The #66 driven by Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller, and Sebastian Bourdais placed second in GTLM. Ford Performance photo

Grant Weaver (center with dark blue jacket) the race manager for Ford/Chip Ganassi over seeing preparation of the Ford’s prior to the race. Weaver has given multiple tours of the Indianapolis based team shop in years past when I brought students on “Gearhead Tour” as part of their FFA National Convention experience. HTF Motorsports photo

Penske Acura team member, Sklar Brand, preparing the replaceable nose for the Acura for a spare in the race. The California native, now living in North Carolina, exemplifies the attention to detail one expects of Penske’s crew. HTF Motorsports photo

Brand and another mechanic replaced the nose on the #6 Penske Acura prior to the start of the race. After the race the nose was not quite this clean. The car was driven by Dane Cameron, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Simon Pagenaud placed 10th overall. HTF Motorsports photo

Even the mighty Penske Team Acura shows the results of 24 hours of racing. Compare the before photo earlier in this episode. Bill Hale photo

Roger Penske in garage area at DIS. He was my last of the big 4 in motorsports I wanted to meet. I did not get to interview him so I think I will not count it as a “meet”. Philip Miller photo

HART Acura Racing #69 taking the dirt at the Bus Stop Chicane early in the race. HART is an all volunteer team who competed in GTD. They seemed to be the most relaxed team in pit lane. They placed 16th in GTD and 37th overall. More about them in Episode #198. HTF Motorsports photo

Scott Pruett, 57, closed out his long racing career at the Rolex with the #15 GTD Lexus RC-F. The team finished 7 in GTD. Pruett has 41 victories with Ganassi Racing (20% of Ganassi 200 victories). He had 5 sports car championships with 5 victories in the Rolex 24 race. Rickie Craven fans will remember Pruett was the driver that Craven replaced in 2001 in the #23 Tide car owned by PPI Racing. IMSA photo


Lexus 3GT Racing team showing the wear and tear of running 24 hours at Daytona. This is the car that Scott Pruett shared with three other drivers. They placed 29th overall and 7th in GTD. Bill Hale photo

Mustang Sampling #5 Cadillac DPi with drivers Christian Fittipaldi, Filipe Albuquerque, and Joao Barbosa, celebrate their overall victory in Gatorade Victory Lane. HTF Motorsports photo

Winning Cadillac DPi drivers on left, GTD winning Lamborghini Huracan GT3 team in center (they get my “brightest driving shoes” award), and GTLM winning Ford GT team in Victory Circle at Daytona . HTF Motorsports photo

McLaren F1 driver Fernando Alonso on left greeting a fan after the Saturday morning driver’s meeting. The F1 driver was a big draw for the event. In foreground is Penske Acura driver Juan Pablo Montoya. HTF Motorsports photo

United Autosports Ligier LMP2 driven by Fernando Alonso, P. Hanson and L. Norris to 38th place overall and 16th in DPi. HTF Motorsports photo

Gene Cherry in Auto Blog, “Unfortunately we had too many issues that were out of our control,” said Alfonso who was making his debut in the 24-hour endurance race.

“Some unlucky situations, first of all with the puncture in the third or fourth stint…..We lost four laps with quite a lot of damage on the car.

“And after that we had a brake issue … and we lost 40 minutes. So that was the end of our race, probably. Then we had a throttle issue and then again a brake issue.”

Last year’s winner, Wayne Taylor’s #10 Cadillac DPi suffered multiple rear tire punctures and was withdrawn when they could not pinpoint the problem.

So how did I do picking the winners… zero picks!

The annual fireworks show at 11 pm with the ferris wheel make a great photo. Lou Masciarelli photo

Grassroots Motorsports Magazine big presence at Rolex 24 Hour weekend 

Regular readers of Grassroots Motorsports Magazine will recognize the 1973 Ford ramp truck they have restored to make it the “coolest race support vehicle”. I showed a photo of it hauling the Mercedes #33 Riley Technology in last week’s episode. HTF Motorsports photo

Tom Suddard, Grassroots Motorsports Magazine Digital Editor, son of magazine founder Tim Suddard, shows off the hauler’s modernized engine compartment. The truck has a rebuilt 390 cid engine with Holley electronic fuel injection. Bill Hale photo

Motorsports Ministries chapel at DIS

One of my highlights was being able to attend Motorsports Ministries chapel services with my brother Bill on right. President and racer Terry Borcheller was the featured speaker. HTF Motorsports photo

Each of the three years I have covered the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona I have had the privilege to attend Motorsports Ministries chapel services. The President of Motorsports Ministries, Terry Borcheller was the speaker each of those years.

This year he spoke from Philippians 2:12-16 “Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. 13For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

14Do everything without complaining and arguing, 15so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. 16Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless.

He left the audience with three words, 1)revelation 2) participation and 3) transformation. He addressed a dozen Teen Challenge youth who were at the track with their sponsor. He encouraged them to surrender to the life offered by Jesus Christ.

Borcheller has two wins at the Daytona 24 Hour race, a win at the 12 Hours of Sebring, and five finishes at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a podium at his first appearance at the French track. He has over 50 wins in other race series. He currently serves as a driving coach in the Ferrari Challenge Series.

Borcheller lives in Vero Beach, Florida with his wife Tracy and has five children.

Let’s Go Racing! HTF Motorsports photo

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria





Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine