Leadership / 05.10.23
Ticketing Legends: Celebrating Juanita 'Lightnin'' Epton Who Has Spent More Than 8 Decades in Ticketing at Daytona
1939. The film “Gone with the Wind” debuts in theatres across America. The New York Yankees say goodbye to Lou Gehrig as he retires from baseball. NBC broadcasts its first television images in black and white. And Oldsmobile introduces the first mass-produced automatic transmission.
That was the same year that Juanita “Lightnin’” Epton moved to Florida from North Carolina with her late husband Joe, who was the official scorer and timekeeper when the stock car races were still being run on the sand at Daytona Beach. By that time, Lightnin’ already had her now-famous nickname, which Joe came up with in the early days of their marriage, claiming he never knew when and where she would strike.
“My service goes back to [NASCAR founder] Bill [France] Sr. in North Carolina when he said, ‘You and Joe are going to Florida, and you are going to work in the ticket office, and Joe is going to be in charge on the inside and for the outside.’ So we came, bag in hand, not knowing exactly what to expect, but we were welcomed with open arms. We have had people to help us in every walk of life, and nothing is more rewarding than a job well done.”
Lightnin’ (right) working at a check-in meeting for the original Daytona stockholders in the early 60s. She is positioned under the Campbell Grandstand alongside an office colleague and Betty Jane France (second from left).
It wasn’t long before Lightnin’ met Anne France, the wife of Bill Sr. and the quiet, behind-the-scenes businesswoman who oversaw operations, including accounting, finances and ticketing.
“Mrs. France was always in charge of the tickets, and I worked very closely with her,” Lightnin’ says. “She would give me X number of tickets, and I would check them to make sure that was exactly what I had because I was responsible for those tickets. Once I knew how many I had, I would give them out in either 10s or 20s, whichever one I thought would be accessible to the person selling [them at the grandstands, infield or another position] … They had their money bag and their tickets, and we checked them out and then checked them back in ... We did a really good job, if I must say so.”
Lightnin’ (right) with her daughter Joan at Daytona in 1949.
That has to be the greatest understatement of all time, as Lightnin’ has continued to work in ticketing at Daytona for the past 84 years. “One thing led to another, and it is a job that I have enjoyed through the years,” she says. “I would love to know just how many [hard] tickets I have counted!”
A New Future for Lightnin’ at Daytona
In 1953, Bill France Sr. started planning to move the races from the sandy beach to a paved track. He wanted fans to have a better view of the cars, so he envisioned a track with the highest possible banking, the degree to which the track is angled. This would allow the cars to reach higher speeds, especially around the corners. Work crews would excavate over a million square yards of soil from the infield to build the high banking.
“It was amazing,” Lightnin’ says. “You would not imagine how fantastic it was to see flat land develop into a mountain and also the enthusiasm that was shown by the people who were watching. So, we knew that we were going to have a winner.”
As the track was speeding toward completion, Lightnin’ moved into a full-time ticket office role on May 1, 1958. She has been there ever since and recently celebrated her 65th anniversary.
“When we first opened, we were in a little building that was east of the tunnel,” she says. “I was selling tickets through the window and there were no ticket booths except [for those] behind the five main grandstands: Oldfield, DePalma, Seagrave, Keech and Campbell.”
And what did the tickets look like back in the early days? “When we had reserved seats, they were flat [pre-printed] tickets … You would take that ticket and go in and keep your stub in case you had to get out for any reason,” Lightnin’ says. “When it was unreserved, you sat anywhere that we were opening the stands and it was on a roll ticket like you would get at the movie.”
The first ticket office at Daytona.
Today, ticketing at Daytona International Speedway has advanced as much as the ticket office itself. “Back then, we had a typewriter and a telephone. That was our equipment,” Lightnin’ says.
There were also a few other key items that the ticket office used in the early days. “I had an Addressograph. It was like a typewriter, but it made indentations,” she explains. “[We] cut a plate, an aluminum strip, that was put on a three by five card and that card was put into a drawer, which held around 200 cards. That would be run through the Addressograph, which would print the name and address of the ticket customer. Then we would check that against the tickets that we had and that were going out to make sure there was a double check on everything. Nothing was taken for granted.”
Lightnin’ (right) works alongside her ticket office peers at Daytona.
For those who do not know what an Addressograph looks like, picture those old machines that you would put a credit card in, add a multi-layered credit card receipt on top, then slide a handle from one side to the other and back again to imprint the card on the receipt. That is a type of Addressograph, and at Daytona, there was a plate for each customer. The plates were created using another machine called a Graphotype, then stored alphabetically. They were used for envelopes in mailings, at will call and to create ticket lists.
“I would use the Graphotype to type the plates to put into the machine to run the ticket list off of,” Lightnin’ says. “We would check the ticket list against our plates to make sure everything was there as it should be. Then we would run them through the [Addressograph] machine [for envelopes and tickets].”
Daytona also used a ledger to record all transactions and to keep track of all ticket sales in the early days.
Lightnin’ says, “We are first class now. We always were first class, but we are first class as far as the equipment is concerned … We have computers, and we have runners, and we have a lot of things that make it easy for us to keep in touch with the Speedway per se and the people here at the counter.”
She says, “In the early days, it was wonderful because you didn't know what you were going to do next. And it was a challenge to jump from one thing to another. I counted tickets. I booked tickets. I did everything with tickets.”
Lightnin’ (left) shares a smile with a Daytona ticket office peer.
And doing everything she can to help continues to this day, with Lightnin’ continuing to play an important role at Daytona International Speedway. What does a day look like for her in the ticket office today? “It may be talking to people, making sure that everybody's happy. It may be listening on the telephone, [being] on the computer, or talking with a customer. Our customers are number one with us. We always have time for them. They appreciate it, and they come back, and they tell us.”
Moving From the Beach to the Track
In 1959, racing moved to Daytona International Speedway. The first Daytona 500 took place in late February that year with more than 41,000 fans in attendance.
“The first race was really interesting because people did not know what to expect,” Lightnin’ says. “It was on a Sunday and people were coming in highly dressed, very formal, [with ladies in] high heels, wading and sinking through the grass to get to the grandstand. But I'll bet the next time they came they had flats on.”
Many fans are repeat customers coming back year after year, and seeing the customers is what Lightnin’ has enjoyed most about ticketing for all these years.
“I look forward to seeing who is coming back, how much they enjoyed it, and the news that they write back to say their favorite won the race or their favorite fell out,” she says, adding that “it is keeping in touch with the people that we love.”
Lightnin’ on the track at Daytona.
Those relationships continue to mean a lot to Lightnin’. She also speaks fondly of customers as friends. “It is a pleasure to see them each year and the little mementos that they might bring. We have a lady who brings apple dumplings every time she comes. It is so nice to see her walk in with that plate full of apple dumplings. We may have someone who comes in and says, ‘I haven’t seen you in a while. I thought I’d better stop by and say hello.’ Our Speedway community is very gracious to our customers. We love them. We treat them with respect. They are not just a money maker. They are friends, and we look forward to seeing them at each race.”
Much has changed in the ticketing industry over Lightnin’s more than eight decades in the business. As with most live events, tickets at Daytona are now available digitally. But if a fan wants a hard ticket, they can still arrange to pick up their order at will call or buy one from sellers stationed in various locations around the Speedway. Lightnin’ loves her hard tickets and the process of getting them into the hands of fans.
“New ideas have come in, but the basic idea of counting your tickets beforehand and putting them in stacks … to know how many tickets you have on hand [has not changed],” Lightnin’ says. “No matter how mechanical [it is], nothing takes the place of the brain and the hands.”
She continues, “There is nothing like handing a man his tickets and seeing the expression on his face when he says, ‘This is for my child.’ They go up in the grandstand and sit and teach these little ones the true feeling of racing. So, we like the hard tickets. When you give out [a ticket] through the phone or what have you, there is something missing. You don't have anything permanent on you that you'd say, ‘I've got my ticket to the racetrack’ … I like the hard tickets. I'm old fashioned. I like to see my ticket in my hand.”
Throughout her long tenure at Daytona, Lightnin’ has remained in the ticket office focused solely on the fans. Once the tickets were sold, she sometimes watched a race on TV at home but never at the track itself. Until one day…
“They asked me if I had seen a race, and I said no. So, the president sent a car and driver down for me to go sit in the stands and watch the race. Well, I went. I saw one lap on the racetrack and apologized for leaving, but I said this is not the place for me. My place is back down with the people and in the ticket office. I could not stay away because I thought my priority was the ticket office. I appreciate the things that they tried to do to help me, to make me aware of what all goes on, but my ticket office was the thing that kept me here.”
In August 2022, that ticket office was renamed in honor of Lightnin’ Epton.
“That is a feeling I will never forget,” she says. “I was so shocked and so pleased to think that my name is on the outside of the ticket office. It says ‘Lightnin's Ticket Office.’ It means a lot that my workdays have not been overlooked, that I have been true to my profession and that I have done my job, or they would not have put a sign up in my name. It is the feeling of security, of knowing that your work has been appreciated.”
On July 15, 2023, Lightnin’ will turn 103, no doubt, while still at work in the ticket office. How does she plan to celebrate?
“Well, that's to be seen,” she says. “I am feeling very fortunate that I'm surrounded by friends. It will be a birthday cake. It will be a thank you for a job well done because I know I have done the best that I could. I try to do my job, and I don't depend on somebody else to do it and turn it over and say I did it. I count every ticket stack, every ticket … so I feel that I do my part and I appreciate the opportunity to be thanked.”
Being a ticketing icon, it is only natural that young people entering the business can benefit from Lightnin’s advice. “If you are interested in a permanent position that will be gratifying, that will be very much about contact between the customer and yourself, get involved with ticketing,” she says.
And what is her best customer service advice for other ticketing professionals?
“Be polite. This person does not have to be here. He does not have to show his face at your racetrack. If you can’t be gracious enough to thank him for being here, [can’t] be polite and give him the best service that you can, then you can’t expect him to come back. We are all human, and we like to have a little praise and a little thank you. We try to make everybody feel welcome, and it makes no difference whether they are dressed [up] or in their everyday clothes. Each person is welcome as an individual until they prove themselves otherwise.”
After a lifetime in ticketing, can Lightnin’ imagine having done anything differently?
“No, I can’t,” she says. “I have enjoyed counting the tickets beforehand, stacking them in X number, putting them together, having them in the right order so that when the ticket seller has been checked out [to go sell hard tickets in other areas of the Speedway], they don't have to go through everything and put them in order. They are already in order for them.”
Lightnin’ says, “I work with the nicest group of people. Everybody cooperates and works together. There is no friction in our ticket office. Each person works for the good of the company, and that is the nicest working condition that you can find … I want to thank the people who have been responsible for having me here at the racetrack … We work together to make this the best Speedway in the world.”
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Tags: Leadership , Daytona