8:28 PM PST, February 25, 2012
What do you get when you combine the rural good ol' boy roots of NASCAR's Daytona 500 with Dwight, LeBron, Kobe and the greatest basketball players on the planet?
Brace yourself, Orlando
Brace yourself, Daytona Beach.
Today is the culmination of "Y'all-Star Weekend" in Central Florida.
Big money. Big stars.
Big traffic jams.
The Roar on I-4.
This is without question the most significant sports day in the history of Central Florida with two of the nation's mega-events happening within 50 miles of one another. For the first time ever, the NBA All-Star Game, the league's showcase event, will trade paint with NASCAR's Super Bowl — the Daytona 500.
Gentlemen, start your economic engines. With these two events alone attracting an estimated 230,000 visitors to Central Florida, hundreds of millions of dollars will have been pumped into our economy by the time the dust and the dunks have settled.
"It just shows you that Florida is the place to be for big-time sporting events," says Joie Chitwood, president of Daytona International Speedway. "It just so happens we've got two decent ones on the same day in February."
Did he just call these events "decent"?
I've got a few better words:
Central Florida sports fans will need a restrictor plate on their emotions today to keep a lid on their excitement level.
Can you believe it?
We're gonna have an All-Star basketball jam session and an all-out racing bam session within six hours of one another.
We're gonna have NASCAR's Great American Race and the NBA's athleticism and grace.
Crank it up and crunk it up because we're gonna have hip-hop music and truck-stop music.
The 500 is in the afternoon at Daytona International Speedway — the 2.5-mile tri-oval track known as the "Mecca of Speed." The All-Star Game is at night in the beautiful, new state-of-the-art Amway Center. Coincidentally, the Academy Awards are also tonight and considering the noise that will be generated in Central Florida this weekend it seems only appropriate that one of the films nominated for Best Picture is called "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close."
Fans and media from across the country and around the world have converged for this loud, proud weekend in Central Florida. From the Far East to the Deep South, the I-4 corridor between Orange and Volusia counties has been the global capital of the sports world the last few days.
Although Jeremy Lin, the Asian-American point guard for the New York Knicks, won't be playing in the All-Star Game he did bring "Lin-sanity" to All-Star Weekend. He made several public appearances in town and competed in the Rising Stars Challenge at the Amway Center Friday night. And his every move — on and off the basketball floor — was chronicled by the worldwide media.
"Just to be here and to see the company and all the players that are here is just ... it's been unbelievable," Lin said during one of his jam-packed news conferences. "I'm just trying to take it all in and embrace it and enjoy it every step of the way."
Meanwhile, over in Daytona, "Lin-sanity" has given way to female driver who has already become "Dan-iconic." We are talking, of course, about Danica Patrick, whose combination of sex appeal and driving ability have made her the media darling as she prepares to make her Daytona 500 debut today.
The NBA All-Stars may not be able to tell you much about NASCAR's switch from carburetion to electronic fuel injection, but they all know about the allure of Danica.
When asked who's bigger this weekend — Dwight or Danica? — Magic franchise center Dwight Howard said with a smile, "She's pretty big, but I'm definitely taller."
Even though these two events -- the 500 and the All-Star Game – are demographically different in nearly every way imaginable, the athletes themselves have an intense amount of admiration for one another.
"I respect immensely what those drivers do," says Carmelo Anthony, the New York Knicks All-Star. "I'll be damned if I would get behind the wheel of one those cars."
Adds Dwight: "I don't know how those drivers do it. They put their lives on the line every time they get out on the track."
Meanwhile, just a short jaunt down I-4, defending Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne speaks just as reverently about the NBA All-Stars.
"Those are some big dudes who muscle their way around," Bayne says. "I'm terrible at basketball, which is probably why I respect those NBA players and what they do. They're just such incredible athletes."
Enjoy it, Central Florida sports fans, because this is a once-in-a-lifetime weekend.
Relish it and remember it.
It will be a day of thunder in Daytona and a night of wonder at the Amway Center.
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