It is SpeedWeeks at Daytona and surrounding area

Episode 349

February 7, 2021

Daytona frontstretch focal point

Frontstretch logo and turf design is the choice of fans in fall of 2020 for 2021 Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway. The dark and light colors are mixtures of different ryegrass seed. ( Photo used with permission of Grassroots Motorsports Magazine)

As you step into the stadium at Daytona International Speedway and gather your first view of what arguably is the most famous race track in the world, your eye is drawn to the lush green grass and logo that makes up the inside of the frontstretch. That design is fan selected and grown into reality by Aroostook County native Jason Griffeth and his dedicated team of groundskeepers.

Every fall since 2000, groundskeepers at the track have produced patterns for the Daytona 500 and Speedweeks. The idea stems back to 2000 when Sam Newpher, Grounds Supervisor at that time, noticed a difference in turf shades after he performed repairs after spinning race cars tore it up on the last lap of the Nationwide  race the night before the 500.

All he had available was Gulf, a lighter shade of annual ryegrass. That contrast triggered an idea that maybe they could use those contrasting shades of grass to develop designs for future Speedweeks.

In November, Griffeth and crew know the fan favorite design. They have the layout and in a relatively short time span will precisely overseed the dormant Bermudagrass with annual ryegrass and darker perennial ryegrass which will yield the two-tone design noted in the photo.

From that point, the newly planted turf is irrigated, fertilized, aerated, and mowed with copious amounts of tender loving care. Just before the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, a logo painting company arrives to paint the Daytona shown in the above photo. That logo is touched up a few times before the Daytona 500.

The journey to Daytona began at Fenway Park

Jason Griffeth at Fenway Park in 2006. Griffeth, son of Robert and Lona Griffeth, Cross Lake, Maine, spent 14.5 years with the Boston Red Sox before becoming the Grounds Supervisor at Daytona International Speedway.  (HTF Motorsports photo)

Griffeth, the son of Robert and Lona Griffeth of Cross Lake, is a Caribou High School Class of 2000 graduate and former Caribou FFA member, Griffeth grew up on the family farm doing what was needed.

After the family moved on from actively farming, he began working at Caribou Country Club as a volunteer to meet his community service hours requirement for high school graduation. The folks at the country club loved his work and hired him as a part-time groundskeeper while he was in high school.

Following high school, he continued his education at the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge where he graduated with a Turfgrass Management degree in 2002. Griffeth got his Bachelor’s Degree at UMass Amherst, graduating in 2004 with a BS in Plant and Soil Sciences.

In the winter of 2000, he enlisted the help of UMass Extension Turfgrass Specialist, Mary Owen, to get in touch with the new Director of Grounds at Fenway Park, Dave Mellor. He made the call and did not hear from Mellor. Not one to give up easy, Griffeth continued to call Mellor until he gave the Maine man an interview for internship at Fenway.

Mellor and Griffeth became kindred spirits right off the bat. Griffeth mentioned that his boss was more like a father figure to him. He began working at Fenway in the summer of 2001.  After serving as an intern 2001-2004 he began full-time as second assistant in 2005.

Griffeth likes to tell the story about his baseball career back home in Woodland, Maine. He played Little League and was an All-Star for three of his four years. The next year he tried out for Babe Ruth baseball and was cut. Little did he know that less than eight years later he would be taking care of some of the most famous turf in the world, Fenway Park.

During his tenure at Fenway the venue underwent numerous improvements. The field has played host to hundreds of events including National Hockey League and college hockey, concerts, 3 World Series, multiple playoff games, weddings, football, and softball games.

Daytona was only a dream at that time

Griffeth enjoyed motorsports and while in New England on the rare day off, would venture out to local race tracks, Seekonk, Stafford Springs, and Thompson to enjoy some races. After Roush merged to form Roush Fenway Group, he got to meet some key figures in the Roush Fenway Racing family and attended a few NASCAR events.

Before that merger, however, Griffeth mentioned several years ago in an interview about a couple Daytona adventures. “A group of us rented an RV the first year somewhere in Connecticut and drove to Daytona”, said Griffeth. “We smartened up and flew into Jacksonville the next year where we rented an RV.”

“In those years, 2006 and 2007, we went to be part of the party scene in the infield at Daytona. We parked the RV on Tuesday and left the track on Monday. My favorite event was the two Gatorade 125’s on Thursday.”

“We had spent much of the time at the Tiki Lounge at the Lake Lloyd dock in the infield. We did not have the special passes to be there, but they must have thought we belonged since we were allowed to hang around during those 125s. If I go back again my desire is to see the races not be part of that scene.”

Little did he know at the time what the future held for the Red Sox groundskeeper. He fell in love with the speedway.

After 21 1/2 years at Daytona, Sam Newpher, the Grounds Supervisor at Daytona decided to retire. That set the wheels in motion for Griffeth. He decided to apply for the job. That decision was difficult since he loved working with Dave Mellor at Fenway.  After seeking the blessing of Mellor, he applied for, interviewed, and got the job at Daytona.

Daytona International Speedway’s Grounds Supervisor and Woodland, Maine native Jason Griffeth at the 24 Hours of Daytona. Griffeth was a member of the inaugural class of the Caribou High School Alumni Hall of Fame, May 21, 2016. Fellow inductees included Olof P. Pierson, Admiral Gregory Johnson, Kris Doody R.N., and Dr. Jessica Meir.  (HTF Motorsports photo)

The move from one of the best-known baseball parks in the world to one of the most famous speedways was considered a horizontal move by Griffeth. According to International Speedway Corporation, the owner of Daytona International, the turf crew can consist of up to 10 members who are responsible for 480 acres of turf.

Immediately after the road course race at Daytona February 21, the task of converting the 4.3 acre infield to the Ricky Carmichael designed Supercross track begins in earnest. The Supercross race will take place March 6, 2021.

The Daytona Supercross has been a fixture at the superspeedway since 1971. The Ricky Carmichael Supercross design is his 14th in a row. The start features a pit wall start with racers heading directly at the fans on front stretch before taking a left. The track features two over/under passes to challenge the riders. Amateurs also race the course during the week.

Griffeth and crew will not get any rest since the American Motorcycle Association (AMA) Daytona 200 will take place the next weekend with title race on Sunday March 14.

Once the motorcycles leave town, the infield will be converted to a soccer pitch for the Daytona Soccer Fest on July 4th weekend. Over 120 loads of sand will used to create the world class pitch needed for international soccer matches. No other NASCAR track has hosted professional soccer games.

Artist conceptual drawing of proposed Soccer Fest scheduled for July 4th weekend. (Drawing courtesy Daytona International Speedway)

The most famous turf located at the trip-oval start/finish line is known by the crew as the “football field”. At one time Bethune-Cookman University used the area as their home field.

In August NASCAR will be back at Daytona for the Coke Zero Sugar 400 August 28. This will be the last race before the playoff season begins.

Motorsports Hall of Fame member meets 5-time USAC Champion at New Smyrna

Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame member Bob Alexander along with his wife Kristi are spending this week at tracks in the Daytona area, primarily New Smyrna Speedway. They are accompanied by Bob, Brian, and Naomi Treadwell (Treadwell Racing). They are exploring the possibility of Treadwell Racing competing at the 2022 E-Modified class. They are doing some preliminary work to see if that may be a possibility

When I found out that one of the stops for the five some was New Smyrna Speedway, I asked Bob Alexander if he had met 5-time USAC Silver Crown Champion Kody Swanson. Swanson is racing the Team Platinum Super Late Model and Pro Stock cars all week.

Alexander made it happen. On Sunday he tracked down Swanson and introduced himself to the Champion. Because it was qualifying, Alexander knew that that was not the time to engage in casual conversation. Maybe later in the week.

Hall of Fame racer Bob Alexander on left6 meets 5-time USAC Silver Crown Champion Kody Swanson at New Smyrna Speedway as part of World Series of Asphalt 2021. Swanson is doing double duty driving for Team Platinum in a Super Late Model and a Pro Late Model class car. (Bob Alexander photo)

Swanson’s record as of Publishing time Thursday:

Super Late Model class… 4 races Qualified 16, 22, 23 and 10 Finished 15, 18, 20, & 24

Pro Late Model class… 5 races Qualified 1, 4, 2, 3, and 1 Finish 3, 2, 6, 2 & 2

Kody Swanson Pro Late Model in action at New Smyrna Speedway, Florida. Part of the World Series of Asphalt February 5-13, 2021. (Speed51.com photo)

Defending World Series of Asphalt Champion Derek Griffith, Hudson, New Hampshire. As of publishing date, Griffith has 2 wins, 3rd, 4th, and 9th. He sits in fourth in points for the event. Griffeth was the winner of the Firecracker 200 at Spud Speedway in 2018. (Speed51.com photo)

Update on CORE Autosports

CORE Autosports #54 LMP3 Ligier JS P320 started in mid pack for the 49-car race.  CORE is in the middle of this photo which began with row seven at start/finish line. (CORE Autosports photo)

The drivers for the #54 CORE Autosports entry at 2021 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona left to right Jon Bennett owner/driver, George Kurtz driver/owner CrowdStrike.com, Colin Braun driver, and Matt McMurry driver. The team finished 5th in LMP3 class, 31st overall after battling a recurring brake issue. (CORE Autosports photo)

Team owner/driver Jon Bennett, pictured here, said, “Really good first race for a new race car and a new arrangement of CORE and GTLM crew members. Brake issues attacked at 11:00pm and there wasn’t much we could do without destroying any chance for podium.  Attrition was lower than expected for the class and we had to be satisfied with P5. I drove the last stint to the finish.  My brake zone was 400% longer at the end compared to the start. I had to clear my brake zone with the spotter because cars were beyond my rear view with the early brake zone start.  Weird.  A bit scary.  I didn’t want to ruin some else’s race in our attempt to finish. Off to Sebring.” note Sebring is March 12-13, 2021.  (CORE Autosports photo)

Who is your Daytona 500 favorite?


My new “season favorite” driver, Ross Chastain, poses for a photo during the 2021 NASCAR Production Days at FOX Sports Studios on January 20, 2021 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Daytona 500 favorites, in my opinion, are at best an educated guess. A last lap scramble can jumble a result as quickly as one can blink an eye. Yet tradition carries through once again this year in UpNorth Motorsports. Predictions are made before the Twin 125s.

As in past years I will post my picks as follows:

Daytona not such a longshot…..Martin Truex Jr.

My sentimental favorite….Michael McDowell

My favorite driver, not my pick to win however. Hope he does well…Ross Chastain

THE WINNER IS,,,, Ryan Blaney

Feel free to comment at thale@reagan.com

Let’s go racing,

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria (Matthew 5:16)

 

 

 

 

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