Courtesy of: https://www.palatkadailynews.com/
Racing champ, locals advocate for bike safety
NEW SMYRNA BEACH – Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson exchanged a set of four wheels for two in an effort to promote bicycle safety Thursday.
“It makes me feel like a kid,” Johnson said when asked if he enjoyed cycling.
Johnson and several other drivers and professional athletes participated in the Champions Ride for Bicycle Safety, which was the idea of local Trans Am Series driver Scott Lagasse Jr. and his father, Scott Sr., who lives in East Palatka.
“Scott Lagasse (Jr.) is a great friend and when he had the idea to start this ride, he reached out to me and asked with my experience of putting on events and we kind of brainstormed on some ideas,” Johnson said after joining a group of about 80 cyclists riding from Daytona International Speedway to Cabbage Patch Bar and back.
“I told him I’d be here to support it because I wanted to support my friend. He’s done an amazing job turning it into this big event. How special is this, you know?”
Thursday’s event was also a poignant one as it honored Volusia County Deputy Frank Schofield. He was training for a ride last year when he was struck by a motorist and killed.
That made Thursday’s event more significant, Johnson said, in reminding cyclists and motorists about safety.
“Motorists have a responsibility, but cyclists certainly do,” Johnson said. “I’m well aware that many people riding don’t follow the rules of the road and that’s the worst thing you can do to upset a motorist.
“Hopefully, our good word today, you writing about it and cyclists not here reading about it will follow the rules and we can create a better environment on the road for everybody.”
Lagasse Jr. said he’s aware of the many biking opportunities in Putnam County and its popularity in the state.
“For me, I’m an avid cyclist,” he said. “It’s something Dad and I do a lot together. We started this bike ride a half-dozen years ago as a way to say, ‘Hey, it’s going to be somebody’s father, mother or brother, but it’s also it also could be someone you’re a fan of like Jimmie Johnson.’
“It’s a way to say we’re humans on these bikes. On the other side, there are cyclists out there who can cause some problems. We ride correctly. We obey the laws. We wear our helmets. We do the things to keep ourselves safe and we try not to aggravate motorists. It takes both.”
Lagasse Jr. said it’s been humbling to see how the event has grown over the past six years. In addition to Johnson, NASCAR driver Aric Almirola participated in the ride. NASCAR’s season-opening Daytona 500 is Sunday.
Several professional cyclists and triathletes also participated in the roughly 40-mile ride.
Trenda McPherson, Bicycle Pedestrian Safety Program manager for the state Department of Transportation, said the goal of the ride was to use well-known athletes to increase awareness of bicycle safety.
“We want everybody to be aware and safe out there,” McPherson said. “It really helps drivers to know that there is a person on that bike and not just a bicycle.
“And it helps cyclists to see that these high-profile athletes follow the rules and ride safely. It really kind of helps us on both sides.”
Scott Lagasse Sr., who owns the Boathouse Marina in Palatka, said the focus of the event is to create more exposure for bicycle safety. He also knows about the growing popularity of cycling in Putnam County.
“We want to get bicycles and cars to share the road,” he said. “I’ve always cycled. It’s a good way to get outdoors and get some good exercise.”
For more information on bicycle safety, visit alerttodayflorida.com.