Any visitor to Daytona International Speedway will come away with an appreciation of just how much hard work it takes to make the “World Center of Racing” one of the greatest venues in all of sports. If you’ve ever wondered who is responsible for keeping the 101,500 frontstretch seats and acres of manicured landscaping in top shape on race day, look no further than DIS Operations Supervisor John Walter.
Walter has helped keep Daytona International Speedway looking it's best since 1991.
“I started as supervisor of landscaping with a two-man crew,” Walter says. “Now, over the years, I’ve added building maintenance and housekeeping, and the cleaning crew that comes in to get the facility ready when the gates open for fans.”
A native of Sarasota, Florida – another Florida town known for fantastic beaches - Walter took an early interest in horticulture. After high school he moved to the area in order to take classes at what is now Daytona State College.
“The plan was to take the courses and then move back to Sarasota,” he says. “But here you have Speedweeks, Bike Week, everything that happens in Daytona. I decided to stay.”
As it would happen, one of Walter’s instructors owned a plant nursery in the area, which he went on to manage for 10 years before taking the position at DIS.
The front of the Ticket & Tours Building back when Walter began working at DIS in the early 90s.
“I remember when I came in and applied for the job (at DIS), I asked the boss, ‘Do you even have enough work for me to do?’ and of course he laughed,” he recalls. “Now I know why. In 27 years, I haven’t gotten caught up yet - there’s always something going on.”
On a typical day, Walter moves around the facility, tending to anything from the flowers outside of the Ticket & Tours Building to a broken lightbulb in the operations offices, so that everything is always in working order.
Walter smiles in front of a line of oak trees that he planted over 20 years ago.
“Our schedule is 6:00 a.m. until done,” Walters says. “You never know what is going to happen with weather or things like that.”
With so many races back-to-back, especially during Speedweeks, Walter oversees the crew responsible for cleaning the stands and getting the entire facility flipped in time for another event the next day.
“We get back for the new year and we are in race mode,” he says. “The bulk of the cleaning is done before then, to get ready for the Rolex 24. There’s a lot of pressure washing, touching up paint, getting the buildings ready, we have a lot more bathrooms than we used to.”
Walter says that the single greatest challenge his team has undertaken was the construction of the UNOH Fanzone, Turn 1 Tunnel and other additions that took place in the infield during the summer months of 2004.
Florida residents at that time will remember the series of high-intensity hurricanes that swept through the area in 2004, while much of the construction was going on. Delays were frequent as Walter’s team laid irrigation and landscaping behind the construction crews as they went.
Walter and his team keep UNOH Fanzone in top shape for visiting race fans.
“The driver-owner lot, where the playground is? That was my nursery,” Walter says. “Usually you’d plan for that for months, but all of a sudden it was October and we had to get it done by the end of the year.”
The rains persisted for a few months as the construction was completed in time for the 2005 season.
With a facility the size of DIS, things like proper waste management are simply a part of the job, and being conscious of the local impact is not lost on Walter.
“We do a lot of recycling here – scrap metal, tires, electronics. We’re trying to be good corporate citizens and be as responsible as we can be.”
During the NASCAR Green initiative, Walter put his horticulture expertise to good use to select the trees and helping instruct volunteers as they planted them in local communities.
“I would go pick the trees and we would load up our trucks with shovels and wheelbarrows and bring them to the site,” he says.
Walter helps NASCAR Green volunteers plant trees around the local community.
Even after being a valuable member of the DIS team for so long, Walter is showing no signs of slowing down.
“I still enjoy it, after all these years.”
It takes a talented team to keep the “World Center of Racing” among the top venues in sports, and passionate people like John Walter are part of what makes working at DIS so special.
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