Daytona security serves as reminder of our new reality

SWAT presence reassuring but sad at same time

- Jeff Gluck USA TODAY Sports FOLLOW REPORTER JEFF GLUCK @jeff_gluck for analysis and breaking news from the track.

The sign of the times was impossible to ignore.

In the garage, on pit road and all around Daytona Internatio­nal Speedway, a highly visible SWAT team presence was part of the Coke Zero 400 weekend.

Uniformed personnel with assault rifles were on patrol, complement­ing increased credential checks, thorough bag searches and the use of mirrors on the underside of selected cars entering speedway property.

In the 10 years I’ve been attending NASCAR races, Daytona matched the highest level of security I’ve seen. Only first lady Michelle Obama’s visit to Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2011 was comparable.

Why? Well, it’s not a stretch to link it to recent terror events, including the Pulse nightclub shooting that occurred roughly an hour away in Orlando.

“The recent tragic events in Orlando certainly emphasize the need to constantly refine our comprehens­ive event security protocol,” said Joie Chitwood III, chief operating officer of Daytona track owner Internatio­nal Speedway Corp. “ISC continues to work collaborat­ively with the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and other federal, state and local agencies in each of our markets. In preparatio­n for all events … guests can expect a high level of security, some visible and some behind-the-scenes, to address multiple contingenc­ies.”

This is the new reality, not just at NASCAR races but also at all sporting events and anywhere people might spend time enjoying their lives.

It’s a bit depressing to think of entertainm­ent venues as possible battlegrou­nds, but each incident — Paris, Brussels, Orlando, Istanbul and so on — means there aren’t safe places anymore.

I asked several fans at the track Saturday night during casual conversati­ons whether the heightened security made them feel nervous or more secure.

The answer each time: more secure.

Personally, I found the presence of SWAT team members to be both reassuring and sad that it was necessary in the first place.

There’s a loss of innocence experience­d in the last couple decades that will be difficult to explain to future generation­s.

“Yes, there was actually a time when the threat of attacks weren’t part of our daily lives. We didn’t used to have to worry about things like that.”

But we do now, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.

After the race, I left Daytona and headed for the Orlando airport, passing by downtown Orlando in the early-morning hours. I found myself making a detour to Pulse, where 49 people were killed and another 53 injured in a terrorist attack last month.

It was 3 a.m., but a few people were still lingering and paying their respects at the expansive makeshift memorial outside the club. Police officers kept watch as people quietly looked over the hundreds of flower bouquets, flickering candles and colorful signs, banners and trinkets.

NASCAR teams had placed an #OrlandoUni­ted decal on each car for the Daytona race and Bob- by Labonte ran a paint scheme with the #OrlandoUni­ted logo on his hood, so the shooting was on the minds of those in attendance. But standing in front of Pulse made it feel like more than a distant tragedy.

Pulse is located on what seems like a completely average street, and it hit home even more how what happened there could have taken place in any city, any state, any country — any venue.

As long as that’s the case, fans will have to deal with longer lines at the gate, additional security checks that might feel unnecessar­y at the moment and the unsettling sight of heavily armed personnel walking shoulder-toshoulder with families hoping to have a good time at the races.

 ?? REINHOLD MATAY, USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Guards search spectators’ bags at security checkpoint­s before they enter the fan zone prior to NASCAR’s Coke Zero 400 race at Daytona Internatio­nal Speedway on Saturday.
REINHOLD MATAY, USA TODAY SPORTS Guards search spectators’ bags at security checkpoint­s before they enter the fan zone prior to NASCAR’s Coke Zero 400 race at Daytona Internatio­nal Speedway on Saturday.
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