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NASCAR: National Guard and Firefighters Replace Race Fans

6 July 1998

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Nearly 200,000 fans were expected to jam Daytona International Speedway on Saturday for the inaugural nighttime running of NASCAR's Pepsi 400.

With the postponement of the event due to fire storms sweeping across East Central Florida, race fans were replaced Saturday by National Guard troops, firefighters and local evacuees who are now calling the Speedway home.

The National Guard is using the Speedway as a command post and a distribution center for its efforts in fighting the fires and protecting the local area. More than 200 National Guard troops, who belong to the 927th Corp Support Battalion and the 631st Maintenance Company of Camp Blanding in Starke, Fla., will become part of a "logistics support area" located on Speedway property.

Military transports and other essential vehicles will be staged in areas designed to accommodate motorhomes filled with race fans. Trailers originally intended to be offices for program sellers and vendors will be National Guard command posts. Food purchased for thousands of patrons inside suites and hospitality areas is now being served to emergency services personnel, firefighters, police officers and evacuees.

"It's rare to have a facility offered to us that is as spacious and nice as this one," said Lt. Colonel John Moors of the Florida Army National Guard. "It's a real plus. We're used to working out in the field, so compared to that, having a facility like this is great.

"It's a great day to be a soldier. There's no better feeling than knowing you have the ability to help fellow Americans to get past these kinds of hardships. This was supposed to be a day for celebration (Independence Day), a happy day, to allow citizens a day of relief. But Mother Nature took over. But we know we have the ability to help, and our ability is being greatly enhanced by Daytona International Speedway.

In addition to National Guardsmen, several hundred out-of-state firefighters will utilize buildings on Speedway property for housing. A clear-span tent at the base of the Winston Tower grandstand, located near the start/finish line of the 2.5-mile superspeedway, was designed as a hospitality pavilion for race fans. Instead, it is serving as a mess hall for firefighters and police officers. It will remain open for the firefighters and National Guard members until their operation is complete.

"There are two things that make the Speedway an ideal location for this type of operation," said Eric Gentry of the Division of Emergency Management for the State of Florida. "First, we have a myriad of needs and it's terrific to have a facility that can meet all those needs in one location. Secondly, everyone knows where the Speedway is, so logistically, it's great to have the Speedway as a central location."

The National Guard will stage nearly 100 vehicles at the west end of Speedway property. Those vehicles will deploy necessary equipment to areas of need in the surrounding regions. The Speedway will serve as the nerve center for this operation.

The Speedway has more than 500 beds available for firefighters, the National Guard and local evacuees. "Daytona Station 3 Shelter" signs direct local evacuees to a Speedway building set aside as an evacuation center. For more information on this shelter, the public is invited to call 255-4739.