Daytona Beach, Florida is home to some of the most fabulous sugar fine white sandy beaches, beautiful weather and the world renowned Daytona International Speedway. This vacation destination hosted auto racing on its hard packed sandy beaches starting in 1902. In 1904 a land speed record was set at a whoping 92.3 miles per hour. Since those historical days, Daytona International Speedway has been a focal point for race fans and their love for the sport.
Coming from the north and traveling along Florida’s scenic A1A highway into Daytona Beach, we found International Speedway Blvd pretty easily. You see it on TV, in magazines and news publications of all types. But it really doesn’t sink in until you actually see the monolithic landmark in person. Being a race fan since I was knee high to a grasshopper, my skin tingled and the hair on the back of my neck stood at attention. I couldn’t wait to get inside and start the tour.
Before we headed inside and out of the 100 degree heat that is so common in this area, I stopped and silently said a prayer to the family that started it all. William “Bill” France, Sr. (statue shown right) built the original stadium style raceway in 1959. The Daytona Beach Road Course made its transition from sand to hard-pack ground with plenty of racing history soon to follow.
We took a few minutes to snap some photo opportunities and then went into the visitors center. There are lots of racing moments framed and mounted on the walls. There is a snack bar, gift shop and cut-away racing car detailing its sophisticated design that is the center’s showpiece. These motorized works of art are powered by a tricked out 5.9 liter, turbo-charged engine that produces a ground rumbling 750 horsepower.
We enjoyed a beverage in the air conditioned small diner where we could see the open air canopy trailer that will be taking us around on our tour. We finally boarded the tram and began the tour of one of America’s iconic racing location.
We enter the 2.5 mile-trioval speedway via the 518 foot long tunnel that took us right across turn one’s beginning bank. Tingling began to race up and down my spine. I finally made it to what I consider NASCAR’s birthplace. The 3000 foot, 31 degrees first corner bank is where the battle begins on race day. Our next stop is the black and white checkered finish line. Each square is filled with signatures by people who have visited the track on various occasions. A dream is fulfilled when a driver leads the pack of competitors across the famous black and white finish line with the checkered flag raining down on them.
The tour took us through the 1600 foot long Pit Row where crews work on keeping their 4 wheel asphalt rocket running like a fine tuned piano. The permitted speed allowed in Pit Row is approximately 55 mph. The standings tower keeps race fans abreast on where their favorite driver is positioned on every lap.
From here our tour takes us to the pre-race conference room where drivers and crew chiefs get briefed on the do’s and don’ts. If there are any questions, concerns or issues to be addressed the race official clears them up right at that moment. All drivers must attend this meeting to qualify for the race and hear those famous words, “Drivers Start Your Engines”!
Just around the corner are the garages where the racing teams prepare their vehicles for battle. The garages offer a viewing window where you can see the crews working on their cars. Most teams bring a backup car in case of any unforeseen problems. During race day the garage areas are filled with plenty of blood, sweat and tears. Emotions are running at full throttle and don’t even think about getting in the way.
Our next stop is a place where egos are built and lifetime ambitions finally become a reality. Victory Lane is like reaching Mount Olympus where every race team what’s to be after enduring the estimated four hours and 500 mile union between man and car. Standing on that stage again gave me tingles knowing that some of the worlds best athletes have stood in this exact spot to accept the covenant Harley J. Earl Trophy.
Our final stop on our tour took us to the new grandstands and an overall view of the track. The 3 year and $400 million dollar reconstruction, which is labeled the “Daytona Rising”, will take the current 147,000 seats and reduce that to 101,000. The reduction in seating allows more room for the spectators in the grandstands. Under the new grandstands will be many more services that offer the latest technology in guest services. The restrooms will be upgraded and offer more stalls. There will be more variety regarding eating and drinking establishments. There is talk about having a four-star restaurant for those who like to fine dine while watching the race on closed circuit TV.
I had to post the picture (shown below) of the seat that I sat in and for a magical moment imagined watching Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. battle the last lap for the silver trophy waiting for one of them at the finish line.
We loaded back onto the tram and made our way towards Daytona’s guest services and the end of our tour. On the way back our guide drove by the bronze statue of one of NASCAR’s most beloved drivers – the legendary Dale Earnhardt. The 7 time Winston Cup champion lost his life on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Dale drove the number 3 car and gained the largest fan following of his time. It actually brought a tear to my eyes. I remember watching this phenomenal driver master his maneuvers on the race track many times.
It doesn’t matter if you are a fan of the sport or not, the Daytona International Speedway has been part of America’s sports history for countless decades. It will give you a whole new perspective on how and why these teams live and die for race day. Every second counts in this competitive sport and the coordination between team members determines if they win or lose. Joey Logano had the best team running on February 22 to take the checkered flag and win the 2015 Daytona 500 (car #22 shown above). I would recommend this tour to anyone who has the slightest curiosity about one of America’s greatest sports where the rubber meets the asphalt. The $23 fee for an all access tour- per adult and $17 for children is well worth the price.
I want to give a special shout out to Phil our excellent tour guide. If you are lucky enough to have him for your guide, let him know that you heard about him on You, Me and the Dock!