How NASCAR is Changing Cycling
2020 Champions Ride for Bicycle Safety
By Dr. Johnathan Edwards
I never need a great reason to ride, but when I got a call from Hub Cycle’s owner Steve Bodnaruk, I jumped at the chance to ride with many of the NASCAR drivers, mechanics, pit crew and other cyclists. Veteran NASCAR driver and cyclist, Scott Lagasse along with FDOT “Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow” program organizes an annual event called Champions Ride for Bicycle Safety. The 45-mile invite-only event is in its 6th year and has grown steadily. The 80-rider peloton included a diverse crowd of top NASCAR drivers and crew, World Champion Triathletes, Olympians, Professional Cyclists and some regular Joes completed a 45-mile circuit starting with a lap on the Daytona 500 circuit! To boot, SRAM founder and owner, Stan Day was riding, and we were supported by the SRAM sag vehicle. The goal of the event is to raise awareness with motorists and cyclists alike that Safety Doesn’t Happen by Accident! The ride was also dedicated to fallen cyclist, Deputy Sheriff Frank Scofield.
Scott Lagasse, a native from the oldest U.S. city, St. Augustine, Florida is not only a race car driver in the NASCAR series, but also a serious voice behind the movement for cycling safety. He explains, “the ride began as a grassroots event in 2015 as many NASCAR drivers train on bicycles and it helps them decompress. The first year, we had 14 riders, and ended with a last-minute lap around the speedway that Jimmie Johnson and Steve Phelps (the president of NASCAR) pulled off.” The real roots of the ride come from Scott’s strong connections with Florida’s Department of Transportation (FDOT). Scott has received support from FDOT throughout his career and has been a spokesperson for Alert Today Florida, a campaign launched in 2012 by the FDOT to increase public awareness of pedestrian and bicyclist safety and driving down fatalities on Florida’s roadways. He increased his efforts in promoting safety after being intentionally buzzed by a car and had something thrown at him. Like many, Scott thought there must be a way to “humanize” the cyclist. Scott says, “we’d like people to start looking at the cyclist on the side of the road as a friend, a father, a mother, a kid … someone who’s there to exercise and have fun, not to disturb the traffic or cause havoc. Cycling is fun and healthy, and it can be safer if everyone does their part to respect the rules – on both sides, as a rider and driver.” Scott Lagasse has been spreading the word about safety for many years. Lagasse, who logs more than 100 miles each week on his bicycle echoes the sentiment that in Florida, cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as other drivers on the road. For Scott, it is very special as the ride started out very small. He gives a lot of credit to Alert Today working hard behind the scenes to make Florida a safer place to ride. Florida does have a history of being one of the most dangerous places to ride a bicycle, and the FDOT have since installed hundreds of miles of bicycle lanes and bike-only trails.
It might not seem obvious that NASCAR and cycling have much in common, like oil and water, but drivers need to be fit and strong, thus many have turned to cycling for its endurance benefits. Racing is strenuous, and a NASCAR driver spends hours fighting the G-forces at 200 mph speeds that affects their hearts and brains. The temperatures in the cars stay around 130-160 degrees F°, and it’s worse in hot and humid conditions. Drivers must also battle higher carbon monoxide levels that exist inside the car. A small mistake can end in catastrophe. Add that to a hectic racing schedule, celebrity appearances, testing, and training leaves little time otherwise. Many drivers have their own planes and take their bicycles wherever they travel.
A very diverse group including NASCAR drivers Jimmie Johnson, Scott Lagasse, Aric Almirola, Justin Allgaier, mechanics, pit crew, SRAM founder Stan Day, SRAM sales manager Ben Raby, professional cyclists, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood, police officers, and many others. Riders met at 7am to sign waivers and get a wristband allowing access on the Daytona Speedway track. After a group photo shot in victory lane, the group rolled and completed a lap around the Daytona 500 circuit. The ride exited the stadium with a full police escort and rolling road closure operating with the precision of a presidential motorcade. In fact, it was practice for them because the US president was going to be at the Daytona 500 on Sunday. ESPN was on hand to film the ordeal and the SRAM support car assisted with any mechanicals. Johnson, Allgaier and Almirola and others concentrated on staying in the front, presumably to stay out of trouble since they had an important race on Sunday. During the ride I was able to speak to many of the drivers and pit crew.
NASCAR drivers Jimmie Johnson, Justin Allgaier and Aric Almirola love to trade in their flame-retardant suits for cycling chamois anytime they can.
Jimmie Johnson, one of the best NASCAR drivers ever, cross trains with cycling, running, weights, jumping rope, and skiing. Riding more than 5000 miles a year, he also competes in triathlons knowing that he must optimize his recovery with the goal of being able to better compete while behind the wheel.
Justin Allgaier is an avid cyclist and trains on his bicycle often. He has supported the ride for years but admits that he feels safer traveling nearly 200 mph than riding his bike on the road at times. He has plans in competing in the 2020 Chattanooga 70.3 Ironman triathlon. He is sponsored by Specialized bicycles and they agreed to supply him with road and triathlon bikes.
Aric Almirola uses his bicycle to train and decompress. He echoes the sentiment. “I love riding my bike, so any excuse to ride is great. To come and support Scott and see it grow every year is a big deal for me. We all love to ride and stay in shape. When it comes to riding bikes, there are factors I can’t predict, like people being distracted texting while driving and not paying attention or just not being patient with cyclists, situations can be dangerous. So, it’s nice to go out and promote sharing the road.”
Sean Kerlin, a veteran mechanic for the Joe Gibbs Racing NASCAR team, and avid cyclist easily rides over 5000 miles per year and even rode 100 miles the day before the ride. As soon as the garage closes, he is in his kit and rides to the hotel. Sean says that he checks with local bike shops for the best routes around the NASCAR racetracks.
Fallen Cyclist Tribute – Deputy Sheriff Frank Schofield
Everyone stopped to pay homage to fallen cyclist, Volusia County Deputy Sheriff Frank Scofield. Frank lost his life while riding his bike when a car failed to stop at a stop sign and struck him from behind. Frank was a veteran police officer, avid cyclist and was training for an upcoming memorial ride commemorating those first responders who lost their lives in the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks. Jimmie Johnson led the homage along with Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood and posed with fellow officers at the memorial site. Even a bigwig from Washington D.C., David Hawk, US Department of Transportation / Federal Highway Administration came out and spoke about how cycling and pedestrian fatalities have increased slightly in 2019 and the state of Florida is investing money to make cycling safer for everyone. Jimmie Johnson, a 7-time NASCAR champion, in his last year full time of racing says, “I am an avid cyclist and riding bikes makes me feel like a kid. Motorists have a responsibility, and cyclists have as well. Hopefully, our good word today, you writing about it, and cyclists not here reading about it will follow the rules and we can create a better environment on the road for everybody.” Jimmie Johnson is a close friend of Scott Lagasse and has supported the ride each year.
The road back to Daytona
Typical in Florida, the ride had one climb, an overpass. Florida is mainly flat, but the weather is outstanding. The pace increased going back into Daytona. We were again escorted through the tunnel, and into the infield of the Daytona International Speedway, navigating past hundreds of NASCAR fans who all gave us the utmost respect. Then we were treated to a great lunch. Scott gave some closing remarks thanking everyone who came out, “I’m thankful for everyone that came out today, Lagasse said. “This is our 6th year and I want to say a very special thanks to Alert Today Florida, Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR President Steve Phelps, Jim Escobar and others who were part of launching this ride. Without their involvement, and commitment this event wouldn’t be what it is. This day of riding was probably the most fun I have had between my legs in a long time. This is a unique ride that combines the two cultures of motorsports and cycling translating to better awareness of cycling safety and sentiments, with the help of the drivers of NASCAR.
About Scott Lagasse Jr.:
Scott Jr. (Scotty) has been a driven individual from an early age, excelling in sports and as a high achiever in school, earning a college degree through the Bright Futures Scholar Program. Scotty’s commitment to excel in racing began at age 7 and includes winning races in motocross, karting, and many forms of auto racing. He is a mentor and role model to our younger generation, an avid cyclist and recognized advocate for Bicycle and Pedestrian safety. Please visit www.teamslr.com. Keep up to date with Scotty by following him on Twitter: @scottlagasse FACEBOOK: /scottlagassejr
About the Florida DOT:
The Florida Department of Transportation’s primary responsibility is to coordinate planning and development of a safe, viable, and balanced state transportation system serving all regions of the state, and to assure the compatibility of all components, including multimodal facilities. Florida’s transportation system includes roadway, air, rail, sea, spaceports, bus transit, and bicycle and pedestrian facilities. For more information on the Florida Department of Transportation, please visit www.dot.state.fl.us. For more information on Florida’s Focused Initiative for pedestrian and bicycle safety, please visit www.alerttodayflorida.com. Follow on Twitter: @AlertTodayFL and Facebook: /AlertTodayFlorida