Tampa fan to mark golden Daytona milestone

- Ralph Brown will be watching the race at Daytona in person this weekend.  It won't be his first time, his 10th, or even his 20th -- Brown has been to 49 consecutive Daytona 500s, and he's racing toward his 50th this Sunday.

"This is just all kinds of autographs over the years," Brown said as we picked through a treasure trove of racing memorabilia spread over his dining room table.

So do his friends even bother asking if he's going this year?

"Not really," he said.  "What they ask around December is, 'Can I go with you?'"

HIS FIRST 500

His father took him for the first time in 1967 when he was 12. He remembers attending the Great American Race as a teenager in the 1970's. 

"When Pearson and Petty and the Allisons and Bakers and Cale Yarborough were winning 90 percent of the races," he explained.

Somehow he got hold of a garage pass one year and ran into a legend. 

"Richard Petty and I were standing over the car thinking 'what do we want to do here? Do we want to de-tune a little bit?' he smiled, remembering the many personalities that have helped make NASCAR nearly a religion among its many devoted fans. 

JOY AND PAIN

He remembers 1979 when a crash was followed by a fist fight between drivers in the infield. "That was something that confirmed to me -- This is the real deal here!"

Over the years he's taken different family members and friends to the race. He looks forward to taking his new son-in-law this Sunday.  He says seeing Dale Earnhardt win in 1998 on his 20th try was his favorite moment, while Earnhardt's death in a Daytona crash in 2001 was the saddest.

Brown says he has no plans to stop going to the Daytona 500.

"My next milestone would be 75 and I don't think I'll make that," he smiled, adding, "You never know!"

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