When NASCAR was big – like really big, not just a strong niche sport like it is now – the Daytona 500 attracted some equally big names to be its grand marshals.
Check out this list from 2003-07:
2003 – John Travolta
2004 – President George W. Bush
2005 – Matthew McConaughey
2006 – James Caan
2007 – Nicolas Cage
OK, so aside from James Caan, that's a pretty impressive list. Well, that period in NASCAR history just so happened to be the time when I started paying attention to the sport.
Therefore, I got the impression the Daytona 500 grand marshal was ALWAYS a huge name. I was spoiled. But ever since NASCAR hit the skids with ratings and attendance, that hasn't been the case.
Check out this list of Daytona 500 grand marshals from 2009-2011:
2009 – Florida Gov. Charlie Crist
2010 – Junior Johnson
2011 – Josh Duhamel, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Michael Bay
No offense to any of the people above, but they don't have the same star power as the grand marshals did for a few years there.
This year's grand marshals are also a bit underwhelming: Glee's Jane Lynch and Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kate Upton.
The reason Lynch and Upton are in attendance is they are promoting the April release of 20th Century Fox's The Three Stooges movie. The reason the stooges themselves are "delivering the green flag" to the flagstand and not being grand marshals is the actors are even smaller names: Sean Hayes of Willl & Grace, former Mad TV star Will Sasso and 24's Chris Diamantopoulos.
Anyway, perhaps the Daytona 500 grand marshals are a reflection of NASCAR's place in the world. When it was hot, the sport's premier event attracted some elite names.
Now? Not so much.