Next year’s Rolex 24 Hours and Daytona 500 will herald the formal opening of a total renovation of the Daytona International Speedway. Called ‘Daytona Rising: Re-imagining an American Icon’, the project will cost $400m and take more than two years of work.
The new grandstand complex will feature three different concourse levels and five expanded entrances, called ‘injectors’, which will lead fans to escalators and elevators so they can reach their seats with a minimum of walking or stair-climbing. Seats will be reduced in number to 101,000 but they will be wider and more comfortable with easy access to more restrooms and concession stands.
The entire place will also have wi-fi. The completed project will include 1600 miles of data cable, 4200 miles of fibre-optic cable and 9200 data network connections. There will also be 60 luxury suites for corporate entertaining. In the rebuild the back-stretch grandstands will be demolished this summer and removed entirely. Daytona’s president Joie Chitwood recently discussed the project.
“‘Big’ Bill France wanted to set a new standard for racing and that’s what he achieved when he opened the Speedway in 1959,” Chitwood said. “Today, more than 50 years on, it’s time to make another move into a new era. We asked what today’s fans really wanted when they came to an event, and we decided not just to renovate the place but to rebuild completely.
“It’s a huge job: the grandstand is nine-tenths of a mile long. There are 60m tons of concrete and 40m pounds of steel in the new structure. It’s a daunting challenge, but we have an opportunity to do something that nobody’s done. Nobody has done a motor sports stadium like this. It’s going to be awesome.”
Chitwood explained the thinking that went into the project. “We asked our current fans what they wanted to see and they told us: vertical transportation. They said we had to get them up and down the grandstands better and more efficiently. Many of them told us they were tired of walking up and down so many long stairways and, when you think about it, any new fan is already used to a much better experience at so many of the new football and baseball fields that have been built across the country in recent years.
“We’re catering to fans who’ve been coming here for 30 or 40 years, but we’re also catering to the young fans who expect much better treatment when they come.”
Chitwood emphasised the roles that wi-fi and social media play in the new-look Speedway. “Making an environment that’s totally friendly to today’s social media world was of prime importance,” he said. “Ten years ago we wouldn’t even have thought of social media but today you’ve got to balance that activity with the sporting activity. The social media aspect is a key element in the new facility.”
Chitwood refuted criticism over the new Speedway losing some 50,000 seats. “I’ve yet to hear anybody say a $400m investment is downsizing,” he said. “It’s the biggest investment in our company’s history. All 101,000 seats will be wider and more comfortable with all the technology they need. This is the plan for the future, making sure we can survive and continue to excel.
“I think every sports property is fighting the same battle. We want to provide an environment where everyone goes away happy and ready to come back next year. This is about the next decade and more, and what we need to do to attract fans.”
It will be intriguing to see how everyone reacts to the new-look Daytona Speedway and how successful Chitwood’s vision will prove.