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RACING TO THE DAYTONA 500 - THE "GREAT AMERICAN RACE"
 
(2014 - Winter Issue)

Writer: DONNA S. VIEIRA



The excitement is palpable. Racing fans of all ages, dressed in their favourite driver’s colours, line up outside the gate. And it’s only 6:50 a.m. on the day of the big race, which heralds the start of the annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

There’s no other sport quite like NASCAR and the DAYTONA 500 is the granddaddy of them all. Every February, the scene repeats itself at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach and organizers promise this hive of relentless movement and energy will be an even greater experience by 2016.

Within sight and easy access of the track, the GEICO infield and Park West campgrounds are filled with tents and RVs. Not wanting to miss a moment of the action, some have camped here for a month, waiting for this day. Many have watched it all come together from the deck they’ve assembled on the roof of their RV.

What makes NASCAR so special? Why does it strike a chord in Americans’ hearts?

The Birthplace of Speed

Perhaps it’s its long history of family traditions and the interaction between NASCAR drivers and fans. This is one of the few sports where die-hard fans bearing appropriate passes can meet their heroes at question-and-answer sessions, participate in driver fan forums on the main stage, look inside the garages through observation windows, watch each car go through technical inspection before taking to the track, access the trioval grass along pit road as well as the track surface before the race, gain up-close access for driver introductions, and autograph the start/finish line prior to the race. For a real treat, some, like us, book a speedway tour, which takes them for two laps around the racetrack. And, anyone scoring a hauler tour, as we did, has rightfully earned boasting rights.

Long before the DAYTONA 500 racetrack was built, 37 kilometres of hard-packed sand at Daytona Beach proved to be ideal for car racing—especially in the winter when people didn’t go to the beach. And so car racing began in 1903 and the tradition has persisted since.

This is where superstars turn into legends. In 1904, the first world land speed record was set. In 1906, a driver was the first to reach 160 kph on the beach. In 1935, Campbell set the last land speed record at Daytona at 444 kph on the beach. By then, cars were just too fast for the beach. Today, for a fee, cars are still allowed on the beach, however the speed limit is 16 kph.

1936 saw the start of stock car races, the first of which was sanctioned by AAA. Only four to five thousand spectators were expected, however organizers knew they were onto something when 20,000 showed up. Bill France, the founder of NASCAR, moved to Daytona and changed history in 1958 when construction on the Daytona International Speedway began.

An intentionally nondescript building, located off-site, serves as the archives centre, which holds an inventory of more than 50 years of stockcar racing. As VIP ticket holders, we were invited to tour this facility where fans, writers, historians and racers come to research the sport. The library contains 3.5 million photos plus six million more in digital format, videos, clippings and press kits, official entry forms and licence applications, record books, programs, track files, sponsor files, replicas of race cars and a secret temperature- and humidity-controlled vault.

Reimagining an American Icon

The International Speedway Corporation owns 13 tracks and collectively promotes more than 100 motorsports events every year. Daytona 500 is the first and biggest race of the season. Parking at most NASCAR tracks is free and coolers are allowed in.

The DAYTONA 500 is, as its name suggests, 500 miles  (805 kilometres) and it takes 200 laps around the track for a driver behind the wheel in an 800HP car to reach the finish line. The racetrack covers 194 hectares and, today, seating accommodates up to 146,000 spectators. However it’s due for a major overhaul.

Scheduled for completion in January 2016, DAYTONA Rising, a US$400-million renovation project, is a “reimagining” of what a race experience can be, blending the modern amenities demanded by today’s sports fans with the heritage they expect from Daytona. Everything, from seating to concessions to conveniences, is being overhauled. The intention is to broaden the Speedway’s appeal and fan base by creating a world-class motorsports entertainment complex that enhances the fan experience.

Five expanded and redesigned entrances, called “injectors,” will lead fans to a series of escalators and elevators, transporting them to three different concourse levels, each featuring spacious and strategically placed social “neighbourhoods” along the nearly mile-long frontstretch. A total of 11 neighbourhoods, each the size of a football field, will enable fans to meet and socialize without ever missing any on-track action, thanks to an open sightline design throughout each concourse and dozens of video screens. A central neighbourhood, dubbed the “World Center of Racing,” will celebrate the history of Daytona International Speedway and its many unforgettable moments throughout more than 50 years of racing.

Upon completion, Daytona International Speedway will have approximately 101,000 permanent, wider, more comfortable seats, twice as many restrooms and three times as many concession stands. In addition, the Speedway will feature more than 60 luxury suites with trackside views and a completely revamped hospitality experience for corporate guests.

Beyond the Racetrack

Also in the works and scheduled to open in 2016 is the “One Daytona” project, a massive US$300-million retail/entertainment/residential/office development on approximately 77 hectares across from the legendary Speedway that will put racing fans within easy access to all the action as well as offer attractions away from the track during Speedweeks 2016. Here, patrons will have a chance to take in a movie, check out Bass Pro Shops and more than 70 other stores and restaurants, as well as stay in one of two hotels on site.

A new Daytona is rising and NASCAR enthusiasts can hardly wait.

Travel Planner

We stayed at the Hilton Daytona Beach Resort/Ocean Walk Village (Hilton.com) on Daytona Beach, just a few kilometres from the racetrack.

For more information, visit:

DAYTONA 500: daytona500.com

Daytona International Speedway Tours: daytonainternationalspeedway.com/tours

DAYTONA Rising: daytonarising.com

One Daytona: onedaytona.com

Halifax Area Advertising Authority: daytonabeach.com

 
 
 
 
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