Kevin and me


Published: Sunday, April 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

On Feb. 18, before a crowd of 185,000 screaming NASCAR fans, Kevin Harvick won the 49th annual Daytona 500 in his supercharged Chevy. Kev completed 200 laps in 3 hours, 22 minutes and 55 seconds at an average speed just under 150 miles an hour.

About a week and a half ago, I myself went two laps around the Daytona Speedway's 2.5 mile track on my Specialized hybrid commuter bike. Once reaching a head-spinning velocity of 25 miles an hour. Probably could've gone faster if I hadn't been hemmed in by slower riders.

I might add that I finished in considerably less than 3 hours, 22 minutes and 55 seconds.

Then, like Kevin, I rolled into "Victory Circle" to savor the moment. Wearing my Gator colors, of course.

Except for a few minor differences - the stands were empty, and the Speedway police wouldn't let me ride the track's steep banks on the spurious argument that I'd just fall over and hurt myself - the parallels between Kevin's ride and mine were eerie.

No doubt if there had been a crowd, the chant "Ron! Ron! Ron!" would have risen to the sky in ear-shattering crescendo.

So, yeah, Kevin and I know what it is to experience NASCAR glory. He got a check for $1.5 million, and I got to make "Barroom, barrooom, barrroooommmm" noises in the back of my throat.

Speedway day was probably the high point of the 14th annual Bike Florida. This year 700 riders from as far away as Alaska came here for a 300-mile meander through Volusia and Flagler counties. For a week we raced down farm-lined country lanes, cruised graceful canopied roads and braved windswept ocean highways.

Linda Crider, Gainesville's staunchest cycling advocate and executive director of Bike Florida, took a victory lap around the Speedway herself; albeit on a clunky, fat-tired mountain bike that, I must say, couldn't match my hybrid's zip.

"Ron, I had an epiphany out there," she told me. "This could be a signature event for the Speedway. They could bring in bicycle riders from all over the world."

After all, she reasoned, the gas guzzling races that Kevin and his bunch run simply can't be sustainable in a post-peak oil world.

Linda's always saying stuff like that. Loopy optimism being part of her charm.

But I'm a skeptic. A city that lives off high-octane race cars and turns its streets over twice a year to gangs of aging, beer-drinking easy riders on pimped-out Harleys isn't going to swoon over Tour de Daytona. I don't see Lance Armstrong making Bud commercials.

Anyway, I suspect NASCAR fans would surrender their Buds for rebrewing into ethanol before they'd watch a bunch of Spandex-clad human skeletons from Italy and Spain do 200 laps around their hallowed Speedway.

On the other hand, you can't spend a week cycling the Sunshine State and not sense that Florida hasn't even begun to scratch the surface when it comes to marketing itself as a destination for tourists who'd rather cycle, kayak or hike than ride the whirling Dumbo at Disney or stew in traffic on International Drive.

Daytona may be NASCAR heaven, but even Volusia County has an ambitious recreational trail development master plan intended to make itself more attractive to cyclists who don't particularly want to share mean city streets with SUVs and semis.

"Trails could make Volusia County an eco-tourism axis," said a hopeful editorial last week in the Daytona Beach News-Journal. It envisioned "a multiuse trail that extends north to St. Augustine, east to Kennedy Space Center and west to connect with Seminole County trails."

Actually, Florida has been doing a better job of building recreational trail systems than nearly any other state in America. It's one our best-kept secrets, which gets back to my point about Florida's eco-tourism marketing deficit.

It doesn't take much imagination to understand that if you begin to "connect the dots" between Alachua County's Gainesville-Hawthorne, Marion's Withlacoochee, Orlando's West Orange, Tampa Bay's Suncoast and Pinellas trails and several other "rail-trails" around the state, you could eventually end up with an interconnected system of recreational greenways that would stretch for hundreds of miles.

Many of the people who participate in Bike Florida are snowbirds from up north who pretty much have to stop cycling when their local roads ice over. Florida is one of the few states in America where it's possible to ride year around in relative comfort and amid great natural beauty.

So maybe Linda's on to something. Not that we're going to see cycle races at the Daytona Speedway any time soon. But, yeah, I can envision the day when there's a Florida "Bike Week" that has nothing to do with Harleys.

And when that day comes, I just want Kevin to know that I'm ready for him.

Any bike, any trail, any time, pal. We'll see what you're made of when you don't have a couple tons of Detroit iron wrapped around your midsection.

Ron Cunningham is editorial page editor of The Sun. He can be reached at voice@gvillesun.com.

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