For the longest time, the Fourth of July in NASCAR meant race day. From its introduction in 1959 until it was moved to Saturday in 1988, the summertime event at Daytona International Speedway was run on Independence Day itself, and often produced fireworks on the track that would rival those exploding in the sky that night. It was a different era that brought with it a different schedule, one where the green flag waved at 10 in the morning and the trophy was handed out before the heat of the day settled in.
The garage opened at 4 a.m. Crews pushed cars through technical inspection at around dawn, and soon after the race was over most everyone was on the beach enjoying the closest thing NASCAR offered to a summer vacation. Teams played volleyball against one another, drivers taught their children to swim. That all ended when the lights went up, and then the national television cameras appeared, the combination changing what was long known as the Firecracker 400 from a low-key event into a prime-time showcase starting in 1998. But the race has never lost its festive atmosphere — it is still summertime in Daytona Beach, after all.