If you are a Sprint Cup fan there is nothing like walking into Daytona International Speedway for the running of the season-opening Daytona 500. The anticipation of seeing the green flag dropping to start the biggest race of the season is unlike any other race that makes up the Sprint Cup schedule. It’s the first time that you get to see drivers in new rides, new sponsors, new paint schemes and this year the first glimpse to see new Generation 6 car that actually looks like the Fords, Chevrolets and Toyotas that you see at a dealership.
My most vivid memory of my first trip to a 500 was the speedway itself. You just get this mental picture that since Daytona plays host to what you would call the Super Bowl of the sport, that the track that plays host to it would be one of the nicest on the schedule. It doesn’t take long once you walk through the gate to know that history does indeed drip off the grandstands, but you have to remember as far as the grandstands go that there hasn’t been much done to them since they were installed over 50 years ago.
In recent years the track has made several upgrades in the infield area to enhance a fan’s trip to the speedway to go along with a modern gift shop and ticket sales area. The track also has lights for night racing and it has very modern grandstands located on the backstretch, but the majority of the seating is located on the frontstretch.
It’s those seats on the frontstretch that command some of the highest ticket prices to be found in the sport, but it is also those seats that are the oldest along with some of the worst sightlines to be found at any track. The speedway realizes that and apparently it is in the process of beginning what would amount to a complete makeover of the track. Daytona’s parent company, International Speedway Corporation, approached the Daytona Beach City Council recently to seek approval for the speedway and the area around it to be rezoned so it could overhaul the grandstands and begin developing the area around the track commercially
While the total project would take years to complete, the first phase of the huge construction project would be the re-doing of the entire frontstretch grandstands.
The biggest obstacle facing ISC could be coming up with a construction schedule that does not interfere with the track’s two premier events each year. Besides the annual season-opening Daytona 500 in February, the track also is home to the annual July 4 week race that marks the halfway point of the Cup schedule. It could be that the Sprint Cup schedule may have to be changed to accommodate the construction that is expected to take up to two years to complete.
The construction of the new grandstands could double the amount of seats now available, but that would not be the only improvement. The track plans to also add five new fan entrances, escalators and renovated restrooms. While all of that would make the race day experience so much more enjoyable for fans, ISC doesn’t plan to stop there with what it has planned for the area surrounding the speedway.
After the improvements at the track have been completed, ISC hopes to turn the area around the track into a large entertainment complex that would have up to 2 million square feet of retail space. The area would also include 1,785 hotel rooms, 1,500 multi-family residential units and a theater complex with up to 5,000 seats. All of this may make the race fans’ trip to the track more enjoyable, but it’s the changes coming to the grandstands that will make the biggest difference.