Another NASCAR season is winding down, ending just prior to Thanksgiving at Homestead-Miami Speedway in South Florida. Then drivers will have less than three months to recharge their engines before reappearing in the Sunshine State – Daytona Beach specifically – where they will begin a nine-month odyssey of continuous left turns, cheered on by thousands of overserved spectators.
And every year, I can only yawn. For there exists a stretch of roadway that begins at Daytona Beach and stretches 132 miles southwest that makes the high banked turns and scorching asphalt of Talladega, Martinsville, Bristol— or any NASCAR track for that matter — look like a church picnic pony ride in terms of danger and thrills.
Of course I’m talking about Interstate 4 – also known as “We have no choice but to get on this if we’re gonna go to Disney World.” Recently named by online service Everquote (and Dads everywhere) as the nation’s most dangerous highway, the road’s daily recipe for disaster reads as follows:
- Begin with one seemingly normal, DOT-approved stretch of roadway.
- Add retired snowbirds reacquainting themselves with their driving skills.
- Toss in foreign visitors fumbling with equally foreign onboard navigational systems while studying English-only tourism brochures.
- Finally, for good measure, mix in a steady supply of haggard dads like me, backs aching from hoisting luggage onto roof racks and ears ringing with the sounds of wailing children wondering why Mickey has yet to appear.
You promised we’d see him Daddy. Where IS he?
He’s right there.
That’s a billboard.
NASCAR’S finest wouldn’t last five minutes on this road before radioing their crews and, in panicky southern drawls, demanding to pit. I can almost hear the exchanges now.
DRIVER: I’m fixin’ to come in.
CREW CHIEF: What’s the problem? Need a tire change?
DRIVER: Nope. Tahrs are runnin’ fine.
CREW CHIEF: Your engine overheatin’?
DRIVER: Negative. She’s runnin’ smooth as my Grandpappy’s moonshine.
CREW CHIEF: Then dadgummit, whatcha wanna pit for?
DRIVER: ‘Cause I ain’t never been so skeered in my ‘ntire life. Whoa, did you see that?
CREW CHIEF: See what?
DRIVER: Camper at nine o’clock. Triple lane change. No signal.
CREW CHIEF: Git on out of there!
As a frequent traveler, I’m no stranger to driving in strange, often tricky environs. I have successfully negotiated the 600 hairpin turns accompanying the Road to Hana in Maui, simply so, at journey’s end, I could bask in the cool waterfalls after vomiting from motion sickness. In San Francisco I traveled Lombard Street, better known as the world’s most crooked road. I even joined the throng of cabbies in midtown Manhattan, nearly trading paint with several but still locating the Queensboro Bridge and arriving at LaGuardia in plenty of time to make my flight.
But each time I venture to the middle of the Sunshine State, I hug my wife and children extra tight. I call my attorney to make sure my affairs are in order. I place another call to my insurance agent, just to confirm my term life policy hasn’t lapsed.
Only then will I exit the rental car lot and warily make my way towards I-4.
I often wonder why Disney, which seems to control everything in Orlando, hasn’t taken over this most perilous of traffic routes. From a monetary standpoint, it makes perfect sense. After all, tourists would be apt to spend more money at Disney theme parks if they arrived in one piece. There exists a monorail within the Orlando airport — a system that does a fine job shuttling visitors from their gates to baggage claim. Now all that’s needed is an eager Disney engineer to extend this transit system out the doors and all the way to the Magic Kingdom’s turnstiles. True, those not wishing to visit Disney World would still have to navigate I-4 but at least the odds of getting clipped by an Animal Kingdom-bound minivan would decrease exponentially.
So NASCAR drivers, as you attempt that late race pass or consider drafting to gain an edge, remember that Dads from all walks of life are doing the same thing nearby, only without rhyme or reason. There is no checkered flag, monetary winnings or prestige awaiting us.
It’s just the price we must pay for a relaxing Florida vacation.