Makeover hopes to improve superspeedway racing experience for fans at World Center of Racing
By Rick Minter
Traveling down International Speedway Boulevard, the main thoroughfare behind the main grandstands at Daytona International Speedway, signs of a major construction project are everywhere.
There are numerous cranes set up behind the existing grandstands, and the steel frames of new facilities are in place. It looks like a massive expansion of the track’s seating capacity, but the fact is that when it’s all done, there will actually be fewer seats.
The Daytona Rising project, a $400 million makeover of the 2.5-mile superspeedway facility, instead is intended to improve the experience for the fans attending races at the World Center of Racing.
Among the changes being made between now and the start of the 2016 racing season are the creation of five new entrances, which will lead to a series of elevators and escalators that will take fans to three different concourse levels.
The finished product will feature 101,000 seats, twice as many restrooms as before and three times the number of concession stands, social areas on each of the concourses and 60 suites. The grandstands on the backstretch will be removed once the work on the front side is finished.
Track officials say that as their fan base ages, it’s important for spectators to be able to access their seats high above the race track without having to climb numerous flights of stairs. They say the escalators are the most popular part of the project among fans they’ve surveyed.
While construction proceeds during the next two months, track officials are planning to make sure this year’s visitors aren’t overly inconvenienced.
“We are proud of the progress thus far on the Daytona Rising project and equally excited to welcome fans for the start of the 2014 racing season,” Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III said. “They will get an up-close and personal look at all the progress we’ve made to date and, hopefully, they will share in the excitement that we’ve felt since the groundbreaking in July.”
Chitwood also pointed out that the crossover gate from the frontstretch grandstands to the infield in the tri-oval has been reworked to try to prevent an incident like the one last February in which Kyle Larson’s car flew into the air and snagged the old crossover gate. The impact sent parts of his car flying into the spectator area, injuring 28 fans, 14 of whom were treated at a local hospital. Even the engine of his car wound up on the interior grandstand walkway used by fans.
The new crossover eliminates the temporary stairway and gate opening. Now the wall and SAFER barrier will be fixed so that they will swing open and fans will walk under the catchfence and up a few steps into the grandstands after attending pre-race festivities in the infield.
The project underway was a big topic of discussion among those in the garage for Preseason Thunder testing.
Eddie Wood, co-owner of the No. 21 Ford driven by Trevor Bayne, compared it to what his father Glen Wood and his fellow drivers must have felt when they drove through the track’s tunnel in 1959 and saw the giant speedway for the first time.
“At that time, it was the biggest race track they’d ever seen,” he said. “Before that, the biggest track they’d raced on was Darlington.
“I’m sure they were as impressed by the bigness of it then as we are today by the construction that’s going.”