Juanita "Lightnin'" Epton has worked in Daytona International Speedway's ticket office since it opened. Now the office will bear her name.
Preparing for its summer weekend of NASCAR racing, the speedway renamed the Ticket and Tours building the "Lightnin' Epton Ticket Office" on Thursday, Aug. 25.
Epton, 102, resides in Ormond Beach but still spends much of her time at the office selling tickets to the races. She began her career working alongside Anne B. France, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr.'s wife. Epton sold tickets to the races on the beach and road course before the speedway opened.
She watched the speedway being built from the ground up and was one of the first people to walk down the staircase of the new facility in 1959.
"It was a wonderful feeling to watch it start out from dirt and wound up becoming what it is," Epton said. "It was thrilling seeing people walk across the grass for the first time."
"When you think about hard work, passion, dedication, you think of Lightnin'."
— FRANK KELLEHER, Daytona International Speedway president
Speedway President Frank Kelleher unveiled the new sign on the building in a dedication ceremony that included Epton, NASCAR chairman Jim France and NASCAR Executive Vice Chair Lesa France Kennedy.
"When you think about hard work, passion, dedication, you think of Lightnin'," Kelleher said. "And Lightnin', today is to honor and celebrate you. You have put your life into this sport."
"I love it," said Epton, holding onto her walker. "And we love you," Kelleher responded. "And we want you to know that your commitment, your passion and the pace and the tone that you set will live on forever. Starting today, August 25, this ticket office will now be known as the Lightnin' Epton Ticket Office."
Kelleher presented Epton with a framed photo collage of Epton's memories over the years.
Jim France, 77, the younger son of "Big" Bill France Sr., has known Epton most of his life.
"You're the only person that I know of gathered here today who probably spanked me," he said.
He remembered Epton and his mother getting angry at him when he was sliding down the red clay dirt at Raleigh Speedway.
"You were trying to sell tickets that day too," he said to Epton. "The great thing is people will be coming here, and this your place. Thank you."
"Once you get involved with the speedway, it's hard to turn your back on it."
Epton's late husband, Joe Epton, was NASCAR's first chief scorer. Joe gave Lightnin' her nickname after they got married, saying he never knew when and where she'd strike. The couple met Bill France Sr. in 1945 at the fairgrounds in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where Joe was scoring races.
Epton said the France family has meant so much to her over the years.
"I could always ask Anne and Bill for a favor if I needed one," she said. "Anne was a kind person. She always smiled. She never raised her voice to anybody. She was the kind of person that gave everybody an opportunity."
She said Bill France Sr. once told her that she could work as long as she wanted to, and she has taken him up on his offer.
"What more can you ask for?" she asked. "If you're a race fan, this is it. Isn't it wonderful that people keep coming back? Once you get involved with the speedway, it's hard to turn your back on it."