NASCAR's Spirit Alive
on the Beach
Within our island community there are a lot of different groups of folks who get together and do fun things. Bound by common interests, these groups become like extended families for the members, who count on each other for love and support. Last Sunday, we spent an entire afternoon with one such group – the fun-loving and eclectic NASCAR fans that gather every race day at Big Game Waterfront Grill to root for their favorite drivers and enjoy each other's company.
"This is a great group – they show up every Sunday and we always have something for them,” said Bar Manager Justin Hall, who is also a NASCAR fan. Hall helps his bartender, group favorite Anthony 'Diesel Master' Pasquarosa, when the group is at Big Game. "We do very well with them here and even extend our happy hour to 7pm when it is race day. Gator Country also helps out by advertising what we're doing here, and these guys show up – even for night races.”
Sand Paper Circulation Manager Don Block has been the de-facto 'leader' of this group for nearly ten years now - with the exception of a post-Charley break. Along with authoring a weekly column in the paper, Block has worked tirelessly to find them a home bar to enjoy their sport and loves bringing folks together to enjoy the camaraderie of racing.
"I took over writing the page in 2003, when the guy who was doing it moved back up north,” Don told us. "Then I started hosting race parties on the island. We jumped around between the Mucky Duck, the Reef and the old Surf Club until Charley hit and took out two of those places so I took a break from it until about three years ago when we started doing the parties again at Mother's.”
Block told us that his inspiration to resume the parties came from the new leadership at the Sand Paper – Bob and Missy Layfield.
"They've been a great supporter of what I'm doing, and I really appreciate it,” he said. "I love writing my page and I can't believe how many people tune in each week just to see what Jester and Mz. Chi Chi have to say! When I started doing the parties again, all of my old core group returned along with a lot of new people.”
Block is also extremely grateful to Hall for giving the group a permanent home at Big Game.
"Justin actually called me and invited us when they built their new sunset bar,” he said. "They are so good to us – we have our own area there, and Justin always makes sure that there is stuff for us to give away during the race and has helped us get trips to some of the Florida races.”
For those who think that NASCAR is just about 'cars driving around a track' – we can say that nothing is further from the truth. Probably the most family-friendly of all professional sports, NASCAR fans get to know their drivers and their drivers' families, bring their kids to the track and sometimes even plan their vacations around racing schedules. And they are a friendly bunch – eager to share their love of the sport with newcomers and make them feel at home.
"We've been a part of this group for two years now, after we met Don at a NASCAR party at Mother's,” said Marvella Rodeheffer – who, along with her husband, Sean – are the 'grandparents' of the infamous Mz. Chi-Chi, the adorable Chihuahua who has something to say each week on Block's weekly NASCAR page. "We've been on the island for 32 years, and my husband, Sean, has been a fan his whole life.”
Michigan native Andy Reid, covered from head to toe in the colors of his favorite driver, #14's Tony Stewart, is another lifelong NASCAR fan.
"This is my first year in Florida, and I found out about this group when I became friends with Don,” he told us. "I come as much as I can because it's so much fun, and I went to Daytona with them earlier this year.”
One member of Don's group – Marvella – won her trip to Daytona when representatives from Gator Country came to a race party and held a drawing for tickets. They were there again on Sunday to give away tickets to an upcoming race in Homestead. The lucky winner was group member Tom Penny, owner of Wild's Cycles on San Carlos Boulevard, a fan of driver Rusty Wallace.
"My wife and I are both huge fans,” he told us. "I'm originally from Toledo, Ohio, and I've been to 15 different tracks all over the United States. We came here about a year ago, found out about this group, and joined.”
Penny, whose dog, Liberty, is the group's third 'official mascot' along with Mz. Chi Chi and Block's dog, Jester, told us a story about a NASCAR party he and his wife went to in Michigan where they got to meet their hero.
"Rusty just walked right up to us, and my wife let him sign her chest,” he said. "That was pretty awesome.”
Down at the end of the bar sat Diana Wallet and her father, David Kaye – known affectionately as 'Daddy-O'. The two have been with Don's group since 2004 when they met him at the Surf Club.
"This is a great group,” they told us. "We used to have a core group from Delaware that we were a part of, and the flagger at the track there – Dover Downs – is an old family friend,” said Diana, who added that she is a 'diehard' NASCAR fan who watches all three series. "We brought Tom and his son in from Wild's.” Kaye's favorite driver, #48's Jimmie Johnson, would win Sunday's Curtiss Shaver 400 race in Indianapolis.
All in all, there were about 25 folks at the race party, from all different walks of life. That number climbs during the winter season.
"Some of my core group are up north right now but we call them on race day and they are here with us in spirit,” Block told us. "These guys are friendly with everyone, that's how they are. That's what's great about NASCAR – even though we all have a different driver, if your guy can't win you want your friend's guy to win.”
"That's the NASCAR spirit.”
Anyone who wants to check out all the fun at Big Game is welcome to join them next Sunday when the group will gather again for the Pennsylvania 400 race at noon.