The New Daytona: How Has The Experience Changed?

I heard a lot of hype heading into Speedweeks in Daytona about the new renovations to the speedway through their project dubbed “Daytona Rising.”

“The first motorsports stadium” was the term I kept hearing, and if I am being honest, I didn’t expect anything groundbreaking. I headed out to the racetrack for the Daytona 500 to find out how different the track experience would be for a fan.

I have been to Daytona International Speedway more times than I can remember and the experience has always been fine. When I arrived this year, I was genuinely blown away. While the track itself is still the same and brings the familiar feeling of excitement, everything beyond the wall into the stands and beyond is unrecognizable. In the past, when you arrive at the track as a fan, your first stop was outside turn four where all the teams would park their merchandise trucks. You would walk along rows and rows of these trucks searching for the one with your drivers number emblazoned on the side. Stages and fun areas were sprinkled around on the outside edges of this area.

Cut to 2016, and instead turn four is a parking lot.  All the action is happening right in front of the speedway along the frontstretch. A great paved area with everything you need for a good time is situated just steps away from the gates to enter. Gone are the countless semis full of t-shirts and now we have giant air conditioned tents with everything under one roof. The fun experiences you remember from days past are still around, just in a much nicer area a lot closer to the track. Another simple, but profound change I was happy to see was the addition of several ticket booths along the front stretch. You used to have to walk over to The Daytona 500 Experience venue to pick up tickets. Something so simple and so obvious was a really smart addition to the facility.

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Once you are ready to leave all the action on the front stretch and head to your seat, you have several gates you can walk through to get close to your seats. I went in through the Toyota gate. You immediately see a great display of cars that look as though they are racing down along the stairs with you. Once you get up to level 1, you are greeted with Kyle Busch’s championship car and trophy. Suddenly, you realize “motorsports stadium” is not some marketing exaggeration, but really the only way to describe this venue now. The area to walk around is massive, and full of food and entertainment options. In the past, everything at the speedway was on the ground floor, and everything above was simply seats and suites. Now, there are 4 levels with food, bathrooms, and shops.

The biggest perk of this? No lines. This was the Daytona 500, a sold out event, and I never once had to wait to get into a bathroom stall or to grab a drink. Is your phone low on power? Don’t worry, there are phone charging stations. Color me impressed, because they really thought of everything here, including free WiFi so you can tweet pictures out all day and make your friends jealous without having crazy data charges.

Once it’s time to head to your seat, there were still a few more changes waiting for you to improve the experience. No more hard metal seats that will burn your flesh off. They have been replaced with plastic seats with a little bit more room to breathe. At every seat, lo and behold, there was a cup holder. It took a while for me to get used to this and I kept setting my drink on the ground. Even so, if I had spilled my drink, no big deal. The new stadium is water proof. Instead of open slots in between each row, it is completely sealed. Feel free to throw your stuff under your seat with no fear of it falling. If the rains come, head into the concourse and relax in the seating areas. If you have ever been through a Daytona rain delay, you know how hard it can be to find a dry spot that isn’t over crowded. Now everyone at a sold out event will have plenty of space to relax and wait it out.

Another major thing to note is the sound system change. Let’s be honest – in the past I could barely understand what was being said from the grandstands. The new speakers they have are clear as day and it’s fantastic as a fan in the stands to know that through the sound system, you can actually hear the commentators.

When I left from Daytona on Sunday afternoon, I felt overwhelmed by the changes made. Part of me was sad to not even recognize the Speedway I grew up at, but more than anything I was just impressed. Fans are going to reap enormous benefits from the work they did here. The experience has changed and other racetracks better be careful that they don’t get left in the dust.

 

Katelyn Stephenson

I am 26 years old, from Orlando, Florida. I have been watching racing, and writing about it on occasion for over 15 years. I enjoy lending my opinion and expertise over the years to articles about subjects I find passion in within the sport. Outside of NASCAR, I am an actress and improvisational comedian. I try to insert my sense of humor when possible in my writing here as well. Cheers!

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