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Official Review by Jim Folsom, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The 51st Annual Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona was run on January 26th and 27th, 2013 at the Daytona International Speedway. The race is a 24-hour endurance race and the biggest event on the Grand Am Sports Car Circuit. It is actually three races in one, as the Daytona Prototype Class, the GT Class (dominated by Porsches) and the new GT2 Class all take to the track. 2014’s race will have at least four classes, as cars from the American Le Mans Series will be included.
The race itself is not what Daytona race fans are used to. These cars run the infield course. This is a bit different than the stock cars, which normally run around the high-banked track. This race is all about keeping out of trouble and on the track, so there’s not a whole lot of beating and banging going on out there.
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A good thing about Daytona is that you can bring your own food and drinks. As long as you don't bring in glass bottles, you can bring in whatever you want. So if you want to avoid the typically high stadium prices, you have that option. Of course, food is also available for purchase. The Daytona infield for this race has a section that is set up much like a fair, with stands selling typical fair food. Some of these choices include turkey legs, pizza, burgers, hot dogs and cotton candy.
The Rolex 24 of Daytona is a different kind of experience. The race is almost an afterthought, as most fans are there for the party. People pack the infield in their RVs and other vehicles, bring their camping equipment, grills and such and make themselves at home all weekend. They watch the race for a bit and then they go party some more. The grandstands are practically empty, which takes a bit away from the atmosphere. The action on the track is also not all that exciting for much of the race, as the field spreads out and everyone tries to stay out of trouble.
This is one event where the neighborhood is actually part of the event itself. Since this is a 24-hour race, fans are allowed to leave the track and re-enter all they want. This allows you to watch the race for a while, and if you want to go eat at a local restaurant rather than eat track food, this is not a problem. There are many good places to eat literally within walking distance from the speedway, such as the Ale House, Ruby Tuesday, Chili's, Hooters, Cracker Barrel, Fazoli's and all the typical fast food stops. If you want to go shopping, there is a mall right across the street, along with several strip malls within walking distance.
The fans at the race are there for the party, so they can sometimes be a bit apathetic toward the race itself. You won't see much cheering or rooting for anyone in particular. Each car has up to four or five different drivers, so the fans at the track don't even really know who is in the car at any given time. Most of the fans there are NASCAR fans who are just looking for something to do and thought a weekend at the speedway sounded like a good idea. Therefore, if you go to live sporting events for the fan excitement, this event may not be for you. These people know how to party, though, so that's a plus.
Access could not be much easier. There is plenty of free parking. The Speedway is right off of I-95 on US Highway 92. You can park across the street and use the pedestrian overpass that goes across International Speedway Blvd (US 92). This makes for a painless experience.
Tickets for the event are $35-$90. Fans can bring a child under 12 for free with the purchase of an adult ticket. This allows you to bring the whole family, pack a cooler full of food, stay as long as you want, and make a day of it and not spend $100. For that price, you get to watch sports cars go 200 miles per hour, go to the Fan Zone and the garage area and take pictures of the parked cars, and even watch a concert on the stage that is constructed in back of the Daytona 500 Club. This value is tough to beat.
The staff at the Speedway goes all out to put in the extras for this event. A carnival is set up in the infield, complete with a Ferris wheel and other rides. Live music is played throughout the race. Grandstands are constructed around the infield course to allow fans to sit up close and watch the cars navigate through that part of the course.
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