DAYTONA BEACH, Florida: Daytona Rising started as a massive renovation of the Daytona International Speedway. It evolved into racing’s first stadium that should transform the way fans — and the sport itself — views racing in the future.
The project cost $400 million and took two years and seven months to complete, but the final project proved to go much further than an architect’s imagination.
“We finally have our own coliseum,” car owner Richard Childress said.
The last of nearly 500,000 bolts was tightened and construction officially was completed on January 27, a day before the opening of practice for the Rolex 24 at Daytona sports car race, but the real unveiling happened on January 21 for the Sprint Unlimited exhibition race and the Daytona 500.
“We’re opening the first true motor sports stadium and speaks volumes about how far this sport has come and where we see hour future heading,” International Speedway Corporation Chief Executive Officer Lesa France Kennedy said.
“This is a total re-imagining of the fan experience,” he added.
When the track opened in 1959, fan sat on concrete slabs and galvanized steel chairs. Restrooms were small and crude, and concessions were limited.
The new and improved speedway has 11 social areas called “neighborhoods,” each the size of a football field, stretched among three concourses on the mile-long frontstretch. Each neighborhood will have some specific nuances including live entertainment, 1,400 television screens, three times as many concession stands and twice as many restrooms.
Capacity was reduced by 60,500 seats to a permanent capacity of 101,500, which allowed the addition of wider seats — each with arm rests and cup holders.
But more important, the grandstands were re-designed to provide a better line of sight for the race.
“The best view in my life at any race track, ever,” former champion Rusty Wallace said after recently touring the project. “When you can sit up here and see the entire road course all around. You can’t do that at any road course in the country.”
“I noticed when I was halfway [up], I could see all around the race track, every spot. Up here, it’s just amazing. You can see every bit of action on the race track; you can even see the beach almost. It’s a great view,” Wallace added.
Richard Petty, who competed 58 years ago in the first Daytona 500, is amazed how NASCAR continues to keep pace with other major league sports. He also believes if the Daytona debut is successful, it will prompt other race tracks to look at improving amenities and the overall experience.
“You know, we have to keep moving forward and Daytona is one of our premier races and premier tracks, so it’s a good place to start,” he said. “You look at these other stadiums and arenas and they have it all. This is our way to showing what we can do on the track side and it’s just going to be better for the sport moving forward.”
“Well, you hope everyone likes what they see at Daytona and that the fans like it, too,” Petty added.
Petty is one of the racing legends who saw stock-car racing venues have evolved.
“Now you look at it, and it’s light years ahead of what it looked like when it first opened,” he said. “So, everything grows with the times.”
There now will be five “injector” entry gates that lead to 40 escalators — the most of any sports stadium.
“It’s pretty awesome,” 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray said. “The first thing I noticed when you look over [from the infield], you realize how big the grandstands are on the frontstretch and how long that is from Turn 4 all the way to Turn 1. It looks more like a stadium. So it’s really, really cool.”
With 4,268 miles of fiber optic cable and the ability to provide free Wi-Fi to every fan, Kennedy believes Daytona now is one of the most-technologically advanced stadiums in the world.
“I feel like one of the biggest ‘wow’ factors will be technology and how it’ll be so much more interactive with the fans,” she said.
Which should transform the way fans — and the sport itself — view racing in the future.