For decades, race fans have flocked to the Daytona International Speedway to watch history being made, from moments of speedster glory as well as tragedy -- most notably the passing of legendary driver Dale Earnhardt in 2001. (Since his untimely death in 2001 after crashing in the Daytona 500, he’s been immortalized with a statue that stands proudly at the front of the Speedway’s Visitors Center.) Even for the biggest racing fans, though, attending most events has largely been a day-trip affair, thanks to a lack of on-site lodging (although there are plenty of hotels and entertainment options just minutes away from the Speedway, and some Daytona 500 spectators have been known to set up shop in RVs and campers on the infield).
That's all about to change in the next year or two. Two major projects, slated to be completed by 2016, will transform the Speedway into its very own multi-day destination with much more beyond the nearly mile-long stadium.
The first project, Daytona Rising, is a $400 million update to the storied Speedway slated for completion in January 2016 (in time for the Rolex 24). A host of new amenities for the frontstretch stadium aims to improve the experience, including 17 elevators and 40 escalators -- meaning that you'll finally no longer have to hike up a seemingly never-ending series of steps to get to your seats, after 50 years since the inception of the "World Center of Racing." In the new development, you'll also be able to shoot the breeze with like-minded race enthusiasts in 11 football field-sized social areas or watch the cars negotiate the steep banks from one of 60 new corporate suites. Three new concourse levels, twice the number of restrooms, and triple the concession stands will all make a visit more pleasant, too.
Also coming to the grandstands are 101,500 new seats with backs and armrests -- important when you consider that the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s premier event, takes at least three hours. That's a whole lot of sitting. During a recent media trip to Daytona Beach, we saw that a number of the old seats have already been stripped from the grandstands to make way for the improved ones. As you might imagine, all this is no small undertaking. As of mid-October, workers had put in just over one million man hours for all efforts under the Daytona Rising project, since work began in July 2013.
But the best news? Because the renovations are privately funded, it won't directly affect ticket prices, which currently start at around $65 for the Daytona 500. Parking and shuttle service on Speedway-owned lots are currently free and will remain so even after renovations are complete. The only other major change is that the back set of grandstands will be torn down completely.
The second phase of the construction project is called One Daytona and will be just across International Speedway Boulevard. Here’s where you can spend your time when you’re not watching cars whip down the Speedway -- or if you're not a racing fan but are traveling with someone who is. The area will be home to shops, restaurants, a 12-screen movie theater, and at least one hotel, as well as some residential space. Bass Pro Shops and Cobb Theatres are already confirmed as One Daytona’s anchor tenants. The hotel, a much-needed addition considering 60 percent of Daytona 500 attendees are from out of state -- is expected to be a 145-room boutique property.