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Start Your Engines: Work Begins on Daytona Speedway

Daytona gets a major upgrade, with features that rival modern NFL stadiums.

Wed September 25, 2013 - Southeast Edition
Lori Lovely

Daytona International Speedway is undergoing a dramatic overhaul intended to create a modern look and feel for the aging front stretch grandstands.

The Speedway represents a complete reimagining of an American icon. International Speedway Corp., which owns and operates Daytona and 12 other NASCAR tracks, produced a design featuring many amenities commonly found in modern NFL stadiums, such as wide concourses, themed restaurants, gathering areas with video screens and wifi capability, five expanded and redesigned entrances, a new pedestrian bridge and the addition of 40 escalators.

The $400 million construction budget makes this redevelopment project the largest capital improvement project in ISC history. Officials like to think of it as preparing for the next 50 years and predicting the future for the fans and the sport.

Track Time

Built in 1958 by NASCAR founder William France Sr., the revolutionary high-banked 2.5-mi. (4 km) tri-oval permitted faster speeds and an enhanced view for fans. Lights were installed around the track in 1998, making it the third-largest single lit outdoor sports facility.

Home of the Daytona 500, the Florida track hosts races of other series, including ARCA, AMA Superbike, Grand-Am, SCCE and Motocross. A 3.81-mi. (6.1 km) road course, built in 1959, incorporates part of the oval. Since 1966, it has been the site of a 24-hour endurance race for sports cars. A 29-acre lake in the 180-acre infield has hosted powerboat racing.

A nearly half mi. short track was constructed along the backstretch of the Speedway’s main course for NASCAR’s lower-tier series. A quarter-mi. dirt track outside of turns one and two of the main superspeedway opened in 2009.

The famed Speedway has been renovated three times: an infield renovation in 2004 and track repaving in 1978 and 2010.

The intent of the project, according to ISC, is to enhance the overall experience for the fans, marketing partners and the motorsports industry by creating a world-class facility with premium amenities.

“We are truly creating history with this unprecedented endeavor, said Lesa France Kennedy, chief executive officer of ISC. “The decision was made with strong consideration of the current macroeconomic condition and a clear view for our long-term growth.”

Fan-Friendly Design

ISC’s clear view extends to providing fans with a superior racing experience. The process, started more than a year ago, will provide more accommodating, expanded entrances along International Speedway Boulevard that lead directly to a series of escalators and elevators. The elevators and escalators transport fans to three different concourse levels, each featuring spacious and strategically placed social neighborhoods along the nearly one-mi.-long front stretch.

The 11 neighborhoods, each measuring the size of a football field, will allow fans to socialize during events without missing any action on the track, due to an open-sightline design and the addition of dozens of video screens. The central neighborhood, 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.

Every seat along the Speedway front stretch will be replaced with wider and more comfortable seating. More restrooms and concession stands will be added throughout the facility.

The project includes the removal of backstretch grandstands.

“We cannot provide the same experience back there that we can provide on the front stretch,” said Joie Chitwood III, president of DIS. “No matter whether you sit in the front row, the middle or the top row, we want the fans to have access to all the amenities, and we can do that on the front stretch. On the backstretch, you feel disconnected from the venue. We listened to the fans back there.”

Previously tracks added seats for NASCAR races, now reducing capacity is the trend. International Speedway Corp. announced it would continue decreasing seating capacity at its racetracks to create more ticket demand.

When the project is complete, Daytona will have reduced its capacity by 46,000 seats to a total of 101,000 seats, with the potential to increase permanent seating to 125,000 if needed in the future. ISC will target seating that doesn’t include sightlines to pit road and the opportunity for fans to take advantage of pre-race events and track amenities.

“There [are] simply too many seats in inventory at several facilities in our portfolio,” said John Saunders, president of ISC. “The seats that we have today don’t necessarily offer or project the best experience for our fans. An engaged customer, one who understands the sport and has a good at-track experience, is more likely to return.”

No seating or capacity changes will be made for Speedweeks 2014. The capacity decrease could occur in stages, according to track officials.

“We will take great care of our loyal existing customers throughout this renovation,” Saunders adds. “They can expect to receive additional direct communication as we proceed with construction.”

No taxes were levied to pay for this project. ISC was forced to reduce the scale of the redevelopment when they failed to secure a public and private partnership with the state of Florida. Plans for renovation of the midway outside the track were eliminated from the revised plans due to the decision by Florida’s legislature not to assist with public funds.

“The major overhaul of the midway area was taken out,” said Chitwood. “The midway area is all the ground between the gates and International Speedway Boulevard.”

Instead, ISC will fund the project, using a majority of the $600 million capital expenditure budget it has for all of its tracks combined over a five-year period from 2013 to 2017.

Despite the major investment being made and reduced seating capacity, Chitwood said ticket prices will continue to be affordable, coolers will be allowed and free parking will be available.

“We are not going to turn around and leverage ticket prices; we know our fans need good entry-level pricing.”

Meanwhile, DIS officials continue to press the state to change its mind about the initiative.

“I do believe we have a great story to tell and I do believe we should be treated more fairly like the other sports properties in terms of sales tax rebates,” Chitwood said.

Chitwood promises to go to Tallahassee frequently to remind state leaders how special Daytona is, and that ISC is making a huge investment not only to the Daytona area and Volusia County, but to the state of Florida as well.

DIS has created more than 18,000 permanent Florida jobs and contributes more than $1.6 billion annually to the state’s economy. The Daytona International Speedway Front stretch Improvement and Mixed-Use Facility projects are expected to add 4,250 new construction jobs and nearly 1,300 permanent jobs. Whenever possible, local labor, contractors and suppliers will be used. An official statement from ISC and DIS notes that not only are both headquartered in Florida, they add significantly to the state’s employment and revenue stream.

“I am proud to say that we have been able to retain all the amenities that we wanted to have in the grandstand structure in terms of the entrances, the seat comfort, restrooms and all those elements,” said Chitwood.

While not as ambitious as initially proposed, the renovation is still considered substantial and the hope is that once completed, it will turn Daytona, which officials have dubbed the “World Center of Racing,” into a show place.

“[The project is] truly creating history with this unprecedented endeavor. I commend the board’s decision to move forward on our plan to redevelop the company’s signature motor sports facility, thereby shaping the vision of Daytona for the next 50 years,” said Kennedy.

Ground Breaking

On the Monday following the Coke Zero 400, Chitwood staged an unusual ground-breaking ceremony that pitted current and former NASCAR drivers and crew chiefs in a driving-skills test — a competition on Caterpillar front-end loaders. The winning team earned the honor of breaking ground on the redesign.

The three-year project completion date is scheduled for January 2016, just prior to the Rolex24 endurance race. The dates of its races — including all February Speedweeks activity and the July 4 race week — will be unaffected next year, but it’s unclear how construction could affect the track’s events beyond 2014.

“Obviously, if we’re going to do anything different than what we do [now], we’ll let everybody know,” Chitwood said. “Right now, we’re just trying to get through ’14.”

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