$400 million renovation of 55-year-old track is taking shape.
DAYTONA BEACH – As any race fan knows, when the flagman shows the field crossed flags, it’s halfway.
“And that’s where we are,” said Joie Chitwood, president of Daytona International Speedway (in photo). Halfway to the end of the $400 million ‘Daytona Rising” project, a signified Wednesday with a traditional “topping out” ceremony as the tallest piece of steel was lifted into place, with the also-traditional American flag and small evergreen tree aboard.
“If a race is 200 hundred laps,” Chitwood told Motorsport.com, “you know that when you reach the 100-lap mark, you start thinking about what you have to do to win this race. We know the finish line is there, and we’re blasting toward it. We’ve got a year and three months to go to 2016, when the project will be complete.”
There’s one statistic that is especially impressive regarding the makeover of Daytona International Speedway, which was built in 1959. It’s that one percent of all the steel used in construction in the U.S. this past year is going into the track. A startling statistic, but looking at the steel in place – nearly 90 percent of it is done – it’s believable.
So the topping-out was cause for celebration, with Chitwood, Jim France, Betty Jane France, Lesa France Kennedy and her son, Ben, the rookie NASCAR Camping World Truck series driver all present.“We’re literally building history and creating an unprecedented motorsports experience,” said Lesa. “I can only imagine how exciting it must have been for my grandfather to turn his vision into reality when he built the Speedway more than 50 years ago.”
“It was a really nice way to honor the family that is letting us do this,” Chitwood said. “The family was excited, it was fun – everybody was blowing whistles as the highest piece of steel went up. It celebrates a really cool milestone. This is a big, long project,” he said, and completion is coming in increments – they need to have 40,000 new seats ready for next year, for instance. The “Superstretch” grandstand will be coming down, but those seats will be needed for the 2015 Daytona 500, so they’ll stay in place until next year.
“The structure is so massive,” Chitwood said. “Seeing it in person is so different than just looking at the plans.” The project should be completed by the Daytona 500, 2016.
Daytona Rising, indeed
Daytona Rising will feature five expanded and redesigned entrances, or “injectors,” that will lead fans to a series of escalators and elevators, transporting them to three different concourse levels. Each level will feature social areas, or “neighborhoods,” along the nearly mile-long frontstretch. At the conclusion of the redevelopment, Daytona International Speedway will have approximately 101,000 permanent, wider and more comfortable seats, twice as many restrooms and three times as many concession stands. In addition, the Speedway will feature over 60 luxury suites with track side views and a completely revamped hospitality experience for corporate guests.
One of the more amazing aspects of the project is how the track has managed to maintain a “business as usual” attitude during it all. The Richard Petty racing experience continues to have cars on the track. This weekend there is ‘Biketoberfest” motorcycle racing – and, incidentally, Chitwood told Motorsport.com that he hasn’t entirely given up on some sort of race to replace the Daytona 200 that was planned with the new KRAVE sanctioning body, then cancelled – “I have some ideas,” he said. “We’re not done yet.”
Then, in November, there’s a new 24-hour themed historic event that will feature several racing series, including the season finale of the Trans-Am series. “There’s a lot of buzz about that weekend,” Chitwood said, “especially for a first event. I think we may have hit on something.” It’s a classic 24-hour race with rotating classes, featuring cars from 1961 and newer. There’s three days of ARCA testing I December, then on December 27-30, it’s the annual Kart Week. Then, January 9 of 2015, it’s the unofficial beginning of Speed Weeks, with the Roar Before the Rolex testing for the TUDOR Championship series.
“We’re gluttons for punishment,” Chitwood said. “We love racing. Bring it on.”