In 2013, Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood announced that the speedway would undergo a huge renovation, making it the first “Motor Sports Stadium.” Many people wondered what the heck a motor sports stadium was supposed to look like. Stadiums are round. Would this work at a 2.5-mile race track? After some of this was complete in 2015, they asked me to come and take a tour and write on Stadium Journey about what I experienced at the speedway.
I was thoroughly impressed. Well, this year they invited me back to see the finished product. If you are a fan of racing, or just a fan of sports venues, or just a fan of being at places where people are having a great time, then you do not want to pass up a chance to visit this place! Run, don't walk to get your tickets to whatever they have going on there. In fact, there doesn't even need to be an event going on, and you could still go visit Daytona and be entertained.
Now, envision a place where you would go on just an ordinary day and have a good time, and hold one of the biggest sporting events in the world there. This is perhaps now the ultimate fan experience! If Daytona was looking to become the number one sporting event in the world that is held annually at the same venue, I think they've done it! I cannot think of a single detail they have left out.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The food at Daytona International Speedway is fantastic. In fact, it is so good that if they decided to keep the place open every day, people could go there to eat, drink and watch sporting events on TV and they could give any sports bar a run for their money. There really is nothing you could want that they don't have. You just want a burger? You can get one. But it is a burger like you'd find at a steakhouse or barbecue restaurant. You want subs? Pizza? Mexican food? Panini? Big sausages? Wings? Beer? Cocktails? Sodas? Kettle corn? Popcorn? Deli sandwiches? All the way up to high end restaurant food? You can find it. If you want to pay to go into the Rolex 24 Lounge, a high-end club seating area, you can get just about whatever you want. Daytona is one of the few places that will allow fans to bring their own food. I have a feeling, though, that fans will refrain from this practice soon.
You could enjoy sitting at any of the multitudes of bars and watch games on TV and not even watch the race, and it would still be a good time.
Forget about it. It's "off the chain," as they say. Imagine a place so massive that it takes two full days to see it all. That's Daytona. We had two days of the guided tour, and I mean two full days. On Thursday, they showed us the archives room. This is like a mini-Hall of Fame. Old cars, trophies, photos, and other memorabilia is on display in this room where the general public doesn't get to see. This is reserved for tour groups. But, don't fear, everyday fan, because by summer 2016, the Motorsports Hall of Fame is coming to the speedway for all to enjoy.
The Thursday tour went almost up until the start of the Can Am Duel Races, the two 150-mile qualifiers on Thursday Night. It picked back up again on Friday at 9:00 AM and went on until about 5:00 that afternoon. We were treated to everything from the Rolex 24 Lounge, to the broadcast booths, to the luxury boxes to the rooms where the people behind the scenes make sure that everything is running smoothly so fans can get on their smartphones, take pictures and upload them on social median even though there are 200,000 of them in one location all doing the same thing. It is really quite amazing.
The fans are treated to everything from concerts, to cars on display such as race cars and classic muscle cars. It is a great thing that there are four days of racing here, because one day is not enough.
There are four sections of the stadium; they are called "Injectors," because they are where the fans are "injected" inside and there is a "car" feel. Each one of these "Injectors" was awarded to a company to make their own. At the east end is the Sunoco Injector. Sunoco did a great job making this a place to hang out for the fans. There are some very cool displays in this section, such as a place where you can celebrate with a checkered flag and make your own video. Sunoco has been synonymous with the speedway since it opened, so there is a huge emphasis on the history of racing here.
The Chevrolet Injector is one of many GM cars, from the newest to classics such as the 1971 Camaro on display. That was one beautiful car! If you are a car enthusiast, this is a place where you can spend hours. If there is a complaint, it would have to be that they do not mention drivers such as Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, or any of the many NASCAR Championships won in Chevys. If they add this for next year's event, they will really have something here.
On the west end is the Florida Hospital Injector. This one has a great emphasis on healthy living. One of the coolest things to see here is the video screens on the ceilings that have different seasonal pictures that almost make it seem like fans are walking in a forest. It also has some great places to sit and relax and enjoy your food, such as the lounge area complete with field turf like you'd see on a football field.
But the Toyota Injector, between the Sunoco and Chevrolet Injectors, takes the prize. This is a section where if you are one of those people a bit miffed that a foreign manufacturer is now part of NASCAR, you no longer have a problem. Toyota emphasized how "American" they have become, with many Americans working for them in nearly every state. They in fact have a huge interactive touch-screen map where you can touch and see a story of what employees in that state are providing for their families and communities, because Toyota is now building cars in the States.
But that is not all. You can get into a Camry driven by a professional driver, and he will take you on an obstacle course to show you what the Camry can do. And you can drive a Tundra up a 31-degree hill, which is the same as the banking in the turns on the race track. All of this entertainment and we haven't even seen a car on the track yet!
This place is its own neighborhood. From rows and rows of people camping in their RVs, both inside and outside the track, to hundreds of thousands of fans walking throughout the stadium, shopping for souvenirs, eating, drinking, or just hanging out, this massive place is like a small city. There is a "midway" outside the injectors, with places to eat, shop, play games and sight-see. You can climb into one of Kyle Busch's cars for a photo op, get an autographed picture of Miss Sprint Cup, and all sorts of other entertainment. And for this, fans don't even need a ticket.
Outside the speedway, there are many restaurants, shops and bars to visit within walking distance. My small hometown I grew up in is now a big city, and it keeps growing, mostly due to the speedway. The next project is underway across the street, and it is going to be a great hang out for any day of the year, called "One Daytona." When this is complete, the area surrounding the Daytona International Speedway will be a mini-South Beach.
The fans are plentiful and are there to have a great time. Many of them show up early in the week and camp out in the infield and stay until late Sunday night after the 500. They party hard all day and night, but not the drunken, rowdy partying NASCAR was known for in the early days of the sport. Picture a four-day long college football tailgate party, and you get the general idea.
One good thing about the fans at Daytona is that they are from all over the world. It's not like you are at a Philadelphia Eagles game and you are the only one there rooting for the Giants. There are 40 different teams and people are from all over the place, so they all just get along because everyone is outnumbered. That is, everyone except for the Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fans.
Now that Daytona is a destination for all sports fans, not just NASCAR fans, you might run into anyone. We shared a table while we ate lunch before the 500 with a couple from California who had never been to Florida or a race. They were big San Francisco Giants fans, so we mostly talked baseball before the conversation turned to all the races I'd been to at Daytona.
It's nice to go to a professional sports event and not have to worry about fights or someone getting assaulted. Everyone there is friendly, and nobody seems to take it that seriously. That's probably because race fans know their guy is one of 40 in the race, so the odds of his winning are slim to begin with.
One of the most pleasant surprises with the Daytona International Speedway is the ease with which fans get to and from the track. Since many of them now camp out in RVs, they are in no hurry to leave. And since fans arrive at different times throughout the week, getting there is no problem. We parked in the middle of the infield all weekend long, and after the 500, we were back on the highway in 40 minutes. When I was growing up, if you went to the 500, you knew it was going to be three hours after the race before you would be moving. Those days are over.
The speedway is conveniently located near I-95 and I-4 on International Speedway Blvd (US 92). All you need to do is look for the Blimp and banner planes, and you can see where the speedway is long before you get near it.
Parking is available for every pocketbook, including those who don't want to pay. You can park at Lot 7 on Mason Avenue for nothing and take a free bus ride to the track.
Considering fans are going to what amounts to a championship event such as the Super Bowl or World Series, or Final Four, the tickets are very reasonable. Tickets can be had for the 500 for just over $100 each. For $200, fans can sit high enough to see the entire track. Try getting a good view of a Final Four or Super Bowl for $200.
When you also consider fans can get into the track as early as 9:00 and spend the entire day visiting the bars, lounges, exhibits, stores, and everything else the place has to offer, it is a great deal. The food is reasonably priced for a stadium, but remember, Daytona also allows fans to bring their own food and drinks. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better bang for your buck at a major sports event.
The Daytona 500 is not just a one day event. It is a four day event. It starts on Thursday with the Can-Am Duels, then a Camping World Truck Series race on Friday, the Xfinity 300 mile race on Saturday, and then the 500 on Sunday. Fans can go to all four, or just go to one of them if they want. On Friday, fans can get fourth level seating for just $70, which means they can go in at 9:00 AM and spend the entire day taking in all the different things going on all around the speedway and then go to the race that night. Where else can you get an entire day's and night's entertainment for $70?
At the 500, you not only get the biggest race of the year, but also a pre-race concert from a major artist. In 2016, it was Florida-Georgia Line. In 2015, it was Kid Rock. In years past, it has been artists such as Tim McGraw or 3 Doors Down. Then, during the national anthem, fans are treated to a fly-over of fighter jets, such as the Blue Angels or the Thunderbirds.
If you have a chance to visit the Daytona International Speedway, do it. It is amazing. And chances are it will get even better the next time you go. They seem to always be adding new things to enhance the fans' experience. Be careful, though, if you are a little paranoid about the information age. The speedway does offer "reward stations," where you use your phone to scan to see if you win something. The speedway uses this for data collection. Their reasoning behind it is to gain information about all their fans, not just the ones purchasing the tickets.
I get emails from NASCAR but haven't noticed any extra spam than I would normally get. They seem to be using the information to send messages to fans they may actually be interested in.
There really is nothing negative I could say about the entire four days spent at Daytona. One would think after four days I would have been ready for the 500 to end. But it didn't feel that way. The race was fantastic, with Denny Hamlin winning in a photo finish. I was exhausted, but I am ready to return.
This is truly one of the great sports experiences that every stadium traveler must see.
In 1959, the Daytona International Speedway opened. It was a 2.5 mile monstrosity with 31 degree banks in the turns. It was unlike anything the drivers had ever seen. At the time, nobody knew about "drafting" because nobody had ever driven so fast that the air coming off the cars was actually a factor. In fact, in that first 500, some of the cars ran as convertibles. Of course, those cars did not do so well. Old timers who were there that year tell the stories about how they were in awe and maybe a little scared the first time they drove through the tunnel and saw the track. In the 50+ years since, Daytona has become one of the premiere venues in sports. Think about it: the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, BCS title game, and Final Four all bounce around to different venues. But every February, racing’s biggest event is held right here at the Daytona International Speedway.
This is a truly remarkable place. There is so much racing history, all in one place. The action on the track is always exciting with the restrictor plate racing. The greatest NASCAR fans in the world come out to Daytona to cheer on their favorite driver. You have to go for an entire weekend so you have time to see everything that the track offers. Get a pit pass and wander around the infield during qualifying for Sprint Cup or Nationwide, and then go out to the grandstands for the actual race that day. Even if you go on a non-race weekend, the Daytona USA museum is fantastic, and you can take a tour where they take you out onto the track. Pretty incredible experience.
It simply doesn't get any better than Daytona.
The annual Daytona 500 has always been one of the biggest events on the sports calendar. It is the biggest event in NASCAR. Like the Super Bowl is to football, the Stanley Cup to hockey, and the World Series to baseball, winning the Daytona 500 is what every kid who wants to be a race car driver dreams of. Winning one of these turns an ordinary driver into a champion and a great driver into a legend.
Daytona International Speedway, built in 1959, has hosted NASCAR’s biggest event every year since. The track was jaw-dropping when it opened. With its 31-degree banking in the turns and 18-degree banking in the tri-oval, the D-shaped track was something no racer had ever before seen. In fact, in the first Daytona 500, some of the drivers actually drove convertibles. They had no idea that the high speeds they would be able to maintain would require that the car be as aerodynamic as possible. The drivers with their tops down soon found out they were very slow compared to the hard tops. Thus, “the draft” was born.
For the next quarter century or so, the cars got faster and faster until qualifying speeds and race speeds often well exceeded 200 MPH. Every year, fans came back to Daytona to escape the cold temperatures at home, catch some sun, and watch their favorite cars and drivers go faster than ever. Legends like Richard Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Allison, and Cale Yarborough gave the fans reason to come back every February as they put on quite the show.
In the early days of Daytona, there were not a lot of frills associated with the speedway. At first, there were grandstands made up of mostly wood benches and walk boards. Later, metal seats were added. A seat cushion was an item you had to bring with you to every race.
If you had a ticket in the upper sections, known as “Towers,” then you walked up several flights of stairs to your seats. Nobody complained though because the best view in racing is up as high as one can go. That is why those seats were the most expensive in the house. There was a small concrete walkway on the tower level where there were restrooms and perhaps a hot dog stand along the way. The restrooms at Daytona have always been about as primitive as one can imagine. Many of the men’s rooms did not even have the luxury of urinals. Instead they had troughs running along all four walls.
The track has gone through many facelifts over the years. The Sprint Towers were a great addition along with the huge press box built on top. The 500 Club building in the infield with Gatorade Victory Lane outside of it was quite the improvement when it was built about a decade ago. The 500 Club would be the equivalent of the club seating in a football stadium, with high dollar food and beverage included in the package. You sit at restaurant style tables with people in black and white uniforms serving your food and drink. It is a great venue for hosting business contacts.
A few years ago, the Fan Zone was built in the infield. This was a huge addition where the fans could buy tickets to get up close to the teams as they worked on the cars, or check out the live bands performing on the concert stage, or hang out at one of the bars and eat and drink and watch the race on TV. Fans could also walk upstairs and check out the action on the track from on top of the garage while also watching one of the giant TV screens. Before all of these renovations, the crowd at Daytona was made up mainly of country boys from all over the south. NASCAR was a southern sport made up of southern drivers racing on southern tracks. But with cable TV, the sport grew a larger audience and the sport began to move all over the nation. With these new fans, the speedway needed to make improvements to get these people to come back again.
However, in the last 20 years or so, it has become apparent the sports stadiums can no longer attract people with just a sports event and some seats to watch it. Sports venues have now become more of a place to hang out with friends or entertain business contacts and “oh by the way, there is a game going on.” The Atlanta Braves built a new stadium, Turner Field, for the 1996 Olympics. Even though they moved in only a year later, they’re already building another new stadium. The Jacksonville Jaguars began playing on the site of the old Gator Bowl, which was completely torn down and a brand new stadium was rebuilt there in the mid-1990s. They are now about to embark on their second major renovation since then. Every ticket holder at a Jags game can enjoy the action while swimming in one of the swimming pools or hot tubs if they can squeeze in.
The Tampa Bay Rays play in a stadium that has only been in use since the 1990s, Tropicana Field. The ballpark is mocked all across the sports world for being outdated and ugly. It has been a constant source of ridicule, often being blamed for the Rays poor attendance. This is the reality of professional sports in the 21st century.
Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood knows this is the reality and has brought the speedway into this new era with Daytona Rising. The construction began at the conclusion of the 2013 Coke 400 and will be completed (if all goes according to plan) by the 2016 Daytona 500. When it is finished, Daytona will look like a state of the art sports venue, rivaling anything the “stick-and-ball” sports have to offer.
Escalators are already bringing the fans up to the higher level seats where they can walk around the huge, new concourse area before the race starts. Once up there, they can visit one of several concession stands where they can purchase anything from a hot dog to a panini. They can take their food over to a table and sit and enjoy their food while staying out of the sun for a while. In the old days of Daytona, fans went to the concession stands and then went back to their seats and ate. In fact, many fans spent all day sitting in their seats. Many arrived several hours before the race and stayed for a while after the race. That is because there really was nowhere else to go. That is no longer the case. The concourse levels have stores to go shop for your favorite driver’s gear, or bars to have a drink and watch a ball game on TV, or for the VIPs, when completed, there will be a Hospitality Area that will rival anything in sports, complete with suites similar to luxury boxes at any new football or baseball stadium.
The seats are no longer metallic chairs requiring a seat cushion but stadium chairs with cup holders, contour seats, and arm rests. With the third and fourth levels being well over 100 feet in the air, the view of the track and the surrounding area is amazing. Even with the three-story 500 Club in the infield, it cannot block the view of the backstretch from these new seats.
What a disappointment in this track, its' personnel and it's service. I guess they feel they have enough revenue coming in and they don't feel that my $10K is worth keeping as a return fan for the Daytona 500 next year. I wrote a letter to the track in February as we spent over $6,000 between tickets and camping in Lake Lloyd this past February for my family. (not to mention all the gear, food etc while we were down there) The spot they put us in (184) didn't fit our 43 foot motorhome as it had a water main pad in the spot and therefore could not pull all the way into the space as it would violate fire code. The space honestly should not be given to a motorhome larger than 32 feet. Also, it was next to the gate and it had 2 foot of grass to the right of it so we had to park to the far left of the spot to avoid the gate as per the security. Therefore, we were totally inconvenienced as we could not open our canopies as they would hit the coach next to us, we had no room for chairs, food tables, our grills or for our tow vehicle. After we were told we had to run all of our wires, electric, sewer and cable UNDER our bus as the hookups were on the wrong side, we did that to facilitate the track putting us in an inadequate size spot. We were told there was no available spot to move us at the time. The next day they said they could move us to spot 210, but that was away from our friends, we would have to totally disconnect everything , secure everything again, (oh and I forgot to mention my husband has a disability). We would spend the entire day moving, we have 2 children to contend with and at this point it was the afternoon and we would miss the races and we were not willing to do that. I have since written 2 letters to the track asking for some kind of compensation on my tickets or my future tickets or SOME kind of courtesy for the time and effort wasted at our expense for the tracks error and I have received nothing...and I mean nothing, not even a courtesy response! I DID receive my renewal asking for another $6,185.00 for 2016 races though!! I spoke with Stephanie in ticketing and explained the whole situation and she told me to write a letter to Dean Kurtz, the Chief Guest-Services Officer , which I did. Do you think I got a letter, a phone call or a courtesy response from Dean? No, I did not. My husband received a call back from Stephanie saying that the track is not willing to do anything about the problems they caused us last year and then asked us if we were going to renew as we only had until June 5th. Needless to say, there is a camping spot and 5 seats available as we have no plans to renew when a track treats their customers like this. The stands were looking pretty empty this year and now I understand why....if this is the way Daytona continues to treat their fans, soon everyone will be home watching the races.
Also, my husband who has a disability was forced to walk over a mile around the stadium after the races to get to the trams to get back into the campground and the track provided no golf cart or handicapped transportation. It was horrible.
You really disappointed my 5 and 9 year old's, Daytona International Speedway...on that you did a great job! ~Shannon LoBue #DaytonaInternationalSpeedwayFAIL #Daytona500disappointment #Geckoshoresatlakelloyd
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