DAYTONA BEACH — If you poll Challenge Daytona competitors about using Daytona International Speedway as a triathlon venue, they all are excited to participate in an iconic sports facility.
Most will admit they are not motorsports race fans and have little knowledge about NASCAR and its doings over the years.
Then there is Andrew Starykowicz, who grew up in the Midwest, lives in Wauconda, Illinois, went to school at Purdue and has been a NASCAR-specific fan since he first learned how to ride a bicycle.
Not only does he know names, but he remembers pertinent facts about certain races, such as the 1988 Daytona 500.
“Yeah, Richard Petty rolled his car down the frontstretch,” he said. “There at the end, I think Davey (Allison) was blocking more for his dad (Bobby Allison) then trying to pass him for the win.”
All-time favorite driver?
A NASCAR driver Starykowicz follows on a regular basis?
“I remember in the 2008 Daytona 500, his Dodge was pushed to the win around some Toyotas by his teammate Kurt Busch,” Starykowicz said, adding “Newman and I went to the same college.”
During a press conference Friday, Starykowicz was tagged the unofficial favorite to win Sunday’s race.
“I think Andrew is going to win this thing, so I’m going to give him the microphone,” triathlete Matt Russell said.
While many of his fellow Challenge Daytona Pro Triathlon competitors think the Speedway is interesting, Starykowicz, 36, is treading on hollow ground.
Starykowicz, known on the triathlon circuit as “Starky,” has attended many NASCAR races — “I have been to Michigan at least 30 times” — and mingles with drivers, such as Jimmie Johnson, Josh Wise and Landon Cassill, on charity rides and similar activities.
“I roomed once with Josh in Switzerland,” Starykowicz said.
“On my long bicycle rides, when I’m training, I pass by Roscoe (Illinois) and there’s a sign that says, ‘Home of Danica Patrick, IRL Rookie of the Year,’” Starykowicz said.
“I like to give my NASCAR driver friends a hard time about that, saying stuff like, ‘Hey, do you have a sign like that in your hometown?' "
He has seen races at Indianapolis, Charlotte, Bristol and Chicagoland.
Daytona stands out, however, because of its long history of crazy finishes dating back to the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959.
“I think at first they said Joe Weatherly won,” Starykowicz said. “Then they found out he was third and a lap down.”
“Crazy things happen at Daytona,” he added. “You don’t know who is going to win until they cross the finish line. Heck, Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 in the Wood Brothers Racing car a few years ago.”
“Starky” hopes that rich tradition will carry over to Sunday’s triathlon and favors his efforts. Not only will the winner be the inaugural Challenge Daytona Triathlon champion, but that athlete will establish the course record.
“Look over there on the wall,” Starykowicz said, pointing to a photo of Bill Elliott from 1987 Daytona 500 qualifying day. “He went 210 mph and set the record. When you set records around here, people remember.
“I’ve crossed paths with a lot of NASCAR people over the years and to come to their house and race, well, I’m really looking forward to it.”