Wednesday, February 12, 2003
‘Lightning’ ticket seller since ´58
By GOWIN KELLY
DAYTONA BEACH — Juanita “Lightning” Epton started working as a ticket seller for Bill and Anne France in 1958. She holds the same job to this day. Epton and her husband, Joe, moved to Daytona Beach in 1958 after he got a full-time position working for Bill France.
Other than Bill France Jr., Juanita Epton is the longest-serving employee at the Speedway. She enjoys her job so much that she can´t bring herself to retire.
“My husband, Joe, started to call me Lightning because he said he never knew when or where I might strike. Well, I´ve been striking with that man for 59 years.
Joe started coming down to work for Bill France Sr. here in 1946. He was down here working on the track, and we used to come down here in the winter months for the races and go back after the races were over. We didn´t move down here as a family until 1958.
Anne B. France was always in charge of tickets until she retired. We were stationed over there in the little building east of the tunnel entrance. We worked the ticket windows that faced the tunnel. We didn´t have a big crew when I first started. We had five or six people.
All the ticket sales went through those windows at the ticket office. Our tickets were kept in a little room inside the office and all of our sales were written by hand. We had a ledger that we wrote the name and address down.
Anne B. was incredibly smart. By getting the address of these people who were buying tickets, she was building a database of information that we still use today.
Our original ticket list came out of a company called the Racing Bee out of Greensboro, N.C. Houston Lawing, who was the first public relations director at the Speedway, brought that down to us. A lot of those people are still our customers, believe it or not. As people bought tickets from us, we just continued to add them to our list.
Anne B. was always ahead of her time. I worked with her until she retired in the late 1980s. She loved the job so much. When they expanded the main building outside the Speedway and moved our department, Anne B. never came into that new addition.
When they moved us over to our new area, she didn´t go. They moved her furniture and filing cabinets and all, but she never went to her new office.
We were driving by here one day and I asked her, ‘You want to stop in and see your new office?’ She said, ‘No, I´m perfectly content like it is.’ And she never set foot in that office.
We started working with Bill France Sr. right after World War II. Joe scored a dirt-track race in Charlotte, N.C., right after the war. I had a baby that was three weeks old. I went to my first race in Charlotte sitting on top of a hill holding my baby. Every time those cars came around the track, we´d get covered in red clay.
I love this job. It gets in your blood. I like the people first of all and I like my job. I´ve been waiting on the same customers from the first race we ran here. I still keep in touch with quite a few of them. During Speed Weeks, it feels like old home week.
When Joe got the job as NASCAR´s chief scorer, we spent a lot of time at racetracks. From that first race in Charlotte in 1946, every weekend after that we were at a racetrack.
We were the first ones to arrive at the track and the last to leave because Joe had to pay out the prize money in cash. Back then the promoter paid competitors in cash the night of the race. it´s so big now, you can´t do that.
The first time I saw Daytona International Speedway, I could not believe the size of the track. Joe would come back to North Carolina when they were building it and I told him ‘Joe, it´s just another racetrack.’ But once you see it, you realize it´s not just another racetrack. it´s one of a kind.
For the first Daytona 500 in 1959, we sold tickets from that little building near the tunnels. Outside that building, it was all sand. As we would write the ticket orders up on the ledgers, the wind was blowing right through those windows and we ate a pile of sand during those days.
What have I´ve gotten from working here at the Speedway? The people I worked with. It was wonderful working with Anne B. and knowing Bill Sr., Bill Jr., Jim and the rest of the France family because they´ve been like family to us.” -- Juanita Epton