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Dawn at the Daytona 24 Is a Motorsports Moment of Zen

Or, why the annual Rolex 24-hour race is worth staying up for

Acura ARX-06 at the 24 Hours of Daytona
  • Last weekend marked the 62nd running of the annual 24 Hours of Daytona in Daytona Beach, Florida.
  • Team Porsche Penske Motorsport won, with the No. 6 Porsche 963 crossing the finish line first after 24 hours of racing.
  • The whole race is super exciting, but as dawn breaks over the Florida horizon, watching the Daytona 24 race becomes truly special.

Last weekend's Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona — err, make that 23 Hours, 58 Minutes of Daytona — was a fiery one, and not just because the No. 12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 burst into flames during the final hour of the race. At 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, the sun rose over the Florida horizon like an all-encompassing fireball, lighting up the morning sky in vibrant shades of pink, orange and red. Cars may have been racing, but at that moment, the world felt quiet; an auspicious calm before the ferocity that ensued over the race's seven remaining hours.

The world of motorsports is full of great endurance races: the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Nürburgring 24, 12 Hours of Sebring and, lest we forget, your local 24 Hours of Lemons event. But the Rolex 24 is unique. Held in the confines of Daytona International Speedway's ovoid perimeter, if you sit high enough in the grandstands — or have suite access from a host company (thanks, Acura) — you can see the entire track. Even the best seats at Le Mans will only give you a vantage point that maybe strings together a couple of corners. But high up at Daytona, it feels like the entire race is your oyster. Or alligator. Or whatever they eat in Florida.

During the race's overnight hours, teams are careful not to push too hard or take too many chances. The race settles into this sort of mesmerizing flow of white and yellow headlights, cars spaced a safe distance from one another. There's a very "it's like a lava lamp" hypnotic effect.

Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona at night

Bundled in a blanket and seated in a row of empty grandstand chairs, the soothing, satisfying whirr of race cars isn't the cacophony of noise that assaults your ears at the start of the race. It honestly becomes a type of white noise — something you could maybe fall asleep to as a cool Florida breeze brushes across your face. (Being super tired certainly helps.)

The pace seems to pick up as the first glimpses of light shoot across the pancake-flat Florida horizon. A new day is breaking, but the race is far from over. Teams continue to alter their strategy as the drivers push the cars ever so harder. The last midday hour or two has the same level of excitement as the beginning. But by that point, you're wide awake and ready for a thrill.

When the checkered flag waved at 1:40 p.m. on Sunday, the No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963 edged out the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R and No. 40 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Acura ARX-06 for a first-place finish, with Brazilian driver Felipe Nasr behind the wheel.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'll admit that, while I'd planned to stay at the Speedway for the race's entire 24-hour duration, a somewhat severe allergic reaction to new prescription medication kept me locked in my hotel room for the first half of the race. Thankfully, freshly recuperated, I was able to get to the track in time for the wee morning hours. Yeah, I was bummed to miss 12 of Daytona's 24 hours. But I'd have been mega upset if I missed my favorite moment of motorsports serenity.

Edmunds says

If you like racing, you owe it to yourself to attend a 24-hour race — especially if it's one where you can see the track in its entirety. The Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona is bucket-list stuff.