DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Fans revved up for Sunday’s rescheduled NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero 400 regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway saw a new look at the ticket office -- a special tribute to a longtime employee.
On Thursday, speedway officials named the ticket office after Juanita “Lightnin’” Epton, according to a news release. Epton, 102, who has been an employee at Daytona since the speedway was under construction in 1958 for the inaugural Daytona 500., which was held the following year.
“The rock of the ticket office for so many years, Lightnin,’ whose warmth and kindness has made her a part of the fabric of the iconic track, will again be working in the ticket office this weekend,” the speedway officials said in a statement.
“I have no intention of retiring,” Epton told WFTV when she turned 101 last year. “When people retire, they get stale, and I am not getting stale. I am going to work as long as I can.”
This year’s ticket office dedication was attended by a large contingent of NASCAR officials, including NASCAR and IMSA Chairman Jim France, NASCAR Executive Vice Chair Lesa France Kennedy and Daytona International Speedway President Frank Kelleher.
“I just don’t know what to say,” Epton said Thursday. “This place and these people mean so very much to me, I can hardly express my emotions with this honor. I truly feel so grateful to be standing here today, seeing my name, forever being a part of this speedway. It feels so surreal.”
Jim France, 77, the younger son of “Big” Bill France Sr., said he has known Epton most of his life.
“You’re the only person that I know of gathered here today who probably spanked me,” Jim France joked.
Epton, who lives in nearby Ormond Beach, said she got her nickname from her late husband after they were married. Joe Epton claimed he never knew when and where she would strike.
“Lightnin’” was born on July 15, 1920, in Mississippi, according to online records. She and her husband lived in Spartanburg, South Carolina, according to the 1950 census, where Epton was a newspaper office clerk.
Joe Epton was NASCAR’s first chief scorer from 1947 to 1985. The couple had first met NASCAR founder “Big” Bill France Sr. at the fairgrounds in Spartanburg in 1945. They moved to Florida, and ”Lightnin’” started working at the ticket office alongside Anne B. France, Bill France’s wife.
“It was a wonderful feeling to watch it start out from dirt and wound up becoming what it is,” Epton told the Palm Coast Observer. “It was thrilling seeing people walk across the grass for the first time.”
Joe Epton died in 2003, but “Lightnin’” kept working.
“We wanted to do something special to honor Lightnin,’ to show her how important she is and has been to so many people,” Kelleher said in a statement. “She has seen this Speedway from its birth to what it’s become today. She has been so inspirational to so many through the years, and the backbone of the ticketing operation. She really deserves this, and we are incredibly proud to be with her today.”
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