Last weekend I attended the 56th NASCAR Daytona 500, my first ever NASCAR race. This weekend I decided to return to the track and do a tour of the Daytona International Speedway and get a view from the other side of the race.
First off you head out on a tram and go around the outside of the track to the far side from the starting line and main grandstands. A sharp turn through the gates and you are suddenly on the back straight of the track (this was near where I sat last weekend) where all the NASCAR magic of high-speed and loud noise normally happens (these cars can hit a top speed of almost 322 kmh / 200 mph)!
The tram then takes you along the track towards the bank of turn 3 and 4. The first thing you notice is all the skid marks on the track and the scratches and marks along the concrete barrier. NASCAR drivers play for keeps!
You then drive along the bottom of the turn and suddenly realize how steep a bank it is! Drivers are hitting the 31 degree angle bank at high-speed in big packs. It is something to behold on race day, but you don’t really get the feel for how steep it is until you are at the bottom of the bank looking up (unfortunately the tram is not quite up to driving on such an angle!). Kudos to the NASCAR drivers!
After this it is time to drive along the front stretch for a quick stop on the start/finish line. You then a drive past the pit lanes and garages to enter victory lane where the podium finishing drivers stand to get their trophy.
Guess what? In Victory Lane you can stand there too just like the 2014 Daytona winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. did the week before (they take a professional photo of you which you can choose to pay for later, but will also take one with your own camera for free).
You then head back to the main grand stand for one last look at the track and for a special treat that awaits. You get to see not only the Daytona 500 trophy but also the car that won the most recent Daytona 500. Very cool!
So there it was, Dale Earnhardt Jr’s. NASCAR Chevrolet #88 more or less exactly the way it looked at the finish of last weeks race.The car is still covered in ticker tape and also has the piece of debris that caught up on his grill air intake towards the end of the Daytona 500. I noted on the back of the car that the team had signed it too.
Nearby is the driving suit worn by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the race along with a portrait of him celebrating the victory. Great stuff!
His Dad Dale Earnhardt (April 29th, 1951 – February 18th, 2001) who started is professional career in 1975 and became one of the most successful NASCAR drivers ever (“The Intimidator” won 7 NASCAR Winston Cup Championships – tied with Richard Petty), would have been very proud of his 2 time Daytona 500 winning son. Dale Earnhardt won the Daytona 500 only once and sadly also died following a last lap Daytona 500 accident in 2001. He is in the NASCAR Hall of Fame and a statue of him stands proudly outside the speedway.
Other notable statues outside the speedway are William (“Big Bill” 1909-1992) and Anne France, one time service station owners (“Big Bill” was also a race driver) who built the speedway and became one of the founders of NASCAR (formed February 21st, 1948 with the help of several other drivers) and their son Bill France Jr. (1933-2007). William France was the CEO of NASCAR until he handed over control to his son in 1972 who remained in that role until his own son Brian France assumed the role of CEO in 2003 (he remains in that role today and has been responsible for the modernization of the sport and is known as one of the most powerful sporting executives in the world). NASCAR truly is a family business! Nearby is also the Daytona 500 Champions Walk of Fame.
On the tour you also learn about the $400,000,000 (!) Daytona Rising project. The front stretch of the Daytona International Speedway is getting a makeover which will be completed for the 2016 Rolex 24 At Daytona and Daytona 500 (it is already underway and started in July 2013). New sections of the grand stands are being built, more comfortable seats are being installed and to create a new experience for racing fans new entrances and 11 “fan neighbourhoods” are being set up on the different levels of the grand stands. Each of these neighbourhoods will be the size of a football field where race fans can hang out, socialize and still enjoy the race (big screens will be all over). Sounds great!
If you have an interest in motor racing and want to check out the NASCAR side of things I thoroughly recommend taking one of the tours at the speedway (if you have the cash and the stomach for it you can also do a driving experience around the track at upwards of 265 kmh / 165 mph!). The tour was especially a lot of fun for me after being at the race with hundreds of thousands of people the week before, then being at the near empty track with just a few hundred people a week later. Don’t miss the opportunity if you are in Daytona Beach.