DAYTONA BEACH — What do you give a loyal employee of more than six decades? How about a dedicated employee who turned 102 a month ago?
NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway skipped flowers, cake and even a bonus Thursday and gave Juanita “Lightnin'” Epton something that should last forever: They renamed Speedway ticket sales like the Lightnin’ Epton cash register.
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Fortunately, they gave her some time to attend the ceremony. That’s right, it’s still running at the speedway, just as it has been since it was built a year before it opened in 1959.
“I just don’t know what to say,” Epton said Thursday. “This place and these people mean so much to me that I cannot express the emotions of this honor. I really feel very grateful to stand here today and see my name become a part of this speedway. It’s so surreal.”
Epton was preceded in NASCAR by her late husband Joe, who in 1947 became NASCAR founder Bill France Sr.’s first head of timing and scoring and held that position until 1985. When Juanita went to work for “Big Bill” selling tickets for the first Speedweeks she worked alongside Bill’s wife, Anne B. France.
“The France family has meant so much to me over the years,” she said. “I remember Bill Sr. telling me years ago that I could work as long as I wanted to work, and I took him up on that offer.”
And then some!
Why is the NASCAR/Daytona ticket clerk called Lightnin’?
“We wanted to do something special in Lightnin’s honor to show her how important she was and was to so many people,” said Speedway President Frank Kelleher. “She saw this speedway from its birth to what it has become today.
“She has been such an inspiration to so many over the years and has been the backbone of the ticketing operation. She truly deserves it and we are incredibly proud to be with her today.”
Oh, a nickname? It came from husband Joe. He hung it up on her shortly after their marriage, claiming he never knew when or where she would strike.
Meanwhile, Lightnin’ will be busy the next couple of days as the speedway prepares to host Friday night’s Xfinity Series race (Wawa 250) and Saturday night’s Cup Series event (Coke Zero Sugar 400).
In the future, if needed, it will be easy to find. She will be somewhere behind the big new sign with her name on it.