NASCAR drivers pave way for cycling safety

NASCAR drivers Scott Lagasse Jr. and Jimmie Johnson team up with Tim Johnson and PeopleForBikes to promote cycling safety at Daytona 500.

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NASCAR drivers don’t spend all of their time behind the steering wheels of stock cars; many get out and ride their bikes regularly. On Wednesday, seven drivers joined about 40 fellow cyclists on a 60-mile ride organized by driver Scott Lagasse Jr. from St Augustine, Florida to the Daytona International Speedway. The 2nd Annual Scott Lagasse Jr. Champions for Bicycle Safety Ride aimed to raise motorists’ awareness of cyclists and to remind cyclists to adhere to the rules of the road. Lagasse is sponsored by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). The ride, now in its second year, was part of FDOT’s “Alert Today Alive Tomorrow” campaign, which aims to prevent pedestrian and bicycle deaths and injuries across the state of Florida.

NASCAR drivers Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, and Josh Wise headlined the ride, along with current and former IndyCar drivers, Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti. On the other side of the coin, former pro cyclists Tim Johnson, Christian Vande Velde, and George Hincapie joined the group to help promote bicycle safety. Charlie Cooper, VP of membership and development at PeopleForBikes, a bike advocacy nonprofit, was also in attendance.

The VIP ride started south along the scenic A1A highway, through a part of Florida that is most affected by collisions between motorists and cyclists, and finished by riding a lap of the Daytona International Speedway.

“Watching the race on TV [most people] do not see how steep the bankings are,” said Tim Johnson about the ride on Daytona’s famous track. “I was riding at the top of the banking, going in a straight line, and my pedals were hitting the ground. It was about a 38 percent grade.”

Tim Johnson also said the ride was successful in its mission to bringing more awareness to motorists. “[The ride] humanized who was on the bike for motorists and made the drivers feel a connection with that person,” Johnson said. “Seeing famous race car drivers like Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth riding bicycles in the week leading up to the Daytona 500 gave motorists a different perspective on cyclists.” Johnson believes that this is a great way to “change the culture in Florida regarding cycling.” The former cyclocross national champ says that the success would not have been possible without the help from the state, principally FDOT.

Lagasse Jr. and the Department of Transportation dreamt up this ride in 2015, and after seeing the success it had last year, held the event for a second year. They hope to be able to keep the ride going in the future to keep cyclists safe on the road for years to come.

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