Daytona International Speedway is home to the Daytona 500, NASCAR racing’s most prestigious event. Every February, the race track is the center of the auto racing world as Speedweeks introduces a new season of competition. Calling Daytona International Speedway a superspeedway can be a bit of an understatement when you take into consideration the history and significance of the race track. Since its unveiling on February 22, 1959, Daytona International Speedway has been there to meet the demands of the growing sport. It all started when William France Sr.founded NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) in 1947.
The very first event taking place at the Daytona Beach Road Course. Within a few years, France was looking to build a new track to host the series premiere event. In 1954, France signed a contract with the city officials of Daytona Beach, Florida, to design and create a new race track. Three years later, he acquired 500 acres of swamp land and they were breaking ground at the future site of the Daytona International Speedway. France purchased the land with money from a wealthy Texas oilman named Clint
Murchison. Murchison went on to later establish the Dallas Cowboys football franchise. Construction efforts consisted of digging the infield and using the soil to bank the track. Millions of tons of soil were removed and used to create the steep 31 degree banking in the turns. The large hole left in the infield from the excavating spanned 44 acres and was filled with water. It was named Lake Lloyd in honor of Sax Lloyd, the first man to give France, a mechanic, a job when he first moved to Florida from Washington DC in 1934. Daytona International Speedway Page 2
With such high banking, creating the incline of the turns was rather difficult. Crews had to anchor the bulldozers to the top of the banking and then connect the paving equipment to the bulldozers. This produced smooth flat turns. The frontstretch was 3800 feet long with 18 degree banking and the backstretch was 3000 feet in length. The final cost of building Daytona International Speedway was approximately $1. 6 million. Opening day at the speedway brought in a crowd of 41,000 race fans despite there only being enough seating in the grandstands for 10,000 people. Currently, Daytona has a seating capacity
of 150,000 people. Over the years, some of auto racing’s most legendary drivers made their way to the coveted Victory Lane in the Daytona 500. With 59 cars in the field, Lee Petty won the inaugural race in 1959 in a photo finish with Johnny Beauchamp. Beauchamp was declared the winner of the caution-free race but after reviewing the video tape, NASCAR awarded the victory to Petty three days later. Mario Andretti, Richard Petty, AJ Foyt and Dale Earnhardt Sr. are among the list of winners of what is deemed as “The Great American Race. ” Daytona USA is an added attraction to the speedway.
A virtual racing world for NASCAR fans, it has become customary for the winning car from the Daytona 500 to be displayed for the entire season inside Daytona USA each year. In 1998, Daytona International Speedway installed lights at the race track with the hope of making the Pepsi 400, NASCAR’s annual July race at Daytona, a night race. However, the race was postponed until October due to the thick smoke from surrounding wildfires. It has now become a tradition to run the Pepsi 400 under the world’s largest outdoor lighting system. Daytona International Speedway Page 3
One thing that is certain about Daytona International Speedway is that it is a fast track. With the high banking of the 2. 5 mile tri-oval shaped track, cars can reach speeds in excess of 200mph down the backstretch. This is the reason that NASCAR mandated the use of a restrictor plate on the cars at Daytona. After 45 years of racing at Daytona, it was time for some much-needed fan-friendly renovations. This would be the speedway’s first major renovation since it was originally constructed in 1959. A team was organized that included the design-builder, in-house architect, engineers,
construction crews and even a race track standards group. Local officials were also on site to oversee the project and aid in eliminating any issues that would interfere with meeting the completion deadline. The importance of this team was to work together to get the job finished properly and in the time designated. While the teamwork went smoothly, it was the weather that did not cooperate. Heavy rains flooded the tunnel excavation on a regular basis. Hurricanes ravaged through the job site on three different occasions. Each time, it undid completed work and slowed progress while clean up efforts went into effect.
Design efforts began in May. Construction did not start until the completion of the Pepsi 400 on July 4, 2004. The project was scheduled to be completed in time for the 2004 Christmas World Karting Association Event held at the track in December of that year. This time table allowed 25 weeks to complete the work. During this time, however, the track still hosted certain events which meant the construction had to continue in a manner so that it would not hamper these activities. Daytona International Speedway Page 4 The project required cutting the track open in order to construct a tunnel below.
The tunnel was to be wide enough to accommodate the passing of two trailers. It was also to include a walk way for pedestrians. Plans were called to fill in 13 acres of Lake Lloyd and to create a concrete retaining wall. The majority of the weather-beaten structures in the infield were to be demolished and 34 new buildings were to be erected to serve as offices, garages, inspection facilities, fueling stations, concession stands and club houses. This also included new utilities and landscaping. Construction costs were estimated at $10 million per month and agreed upon before the
project commenced based on the scope of the deadline for completion. The completed project was awarded the 2005 Award for Excellence from Design-Build Institute of America. Daytona International Speedway has become a year-round tourist attraction for auto racing enthusiasts. It is not only the mecca of the NASCAR Nextel Cup, Daytona International Speedway is the host to many exciting races throughout the year. Nextel Cup drivers earn their way into the premiere event with the Budweiser Shootout and the Gatorade Duels. Before that, many of the drivers compete in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.
The NASCAR Busch Series and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series preview the Nextel Cup season-opener. Then NASCAR visits again under the lights in July for the Pepsi 400. Daytona International Speedway also holds go-kart races and motorcycle races – both on and off-road. The speedway has a 3. 56 mile road course. Lake Lloyd, nestled in the 180 acre infield, is the site of powerboat racing. Daytona International Speedway Page 5 While Daytona has seen the glory and triumph of the racing world, it has also seen its share of tragedy. It goes back to the very beginning.
Eleven days before the running of the speedway’s first Daytona 500, local racer Marshall Teague died while testing his Indy car at the track. There have been more than 30 deaths at the race track over the years relating to auto, motorcycle and powerboat racing. Dale Earnhardt Sr. , one of the sport’s greatest drivers, lost his life on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 when he crashed into the wall. He died from blunt force trauma. Earnhardt’s death took a massive toll on the racing world and brought forth a new light in the way of safety, especially that of the HANS device.
Since his death, the effectiveness of safety equipment has improved including racing seats, seatbelts and helmets. Tracks have even installed energy absorbing walls called safer barriers. The Daytona International Speedway held a special place in Earnhardt’s heart. Known as “The Intimidator,” he was a record holder at Daytona International Speedway long before he earned his first Daytona 500 win. It wasn’t until 1998 that Earnhardt ended a 59 race winless streak and took his first career Daytona 500 win. He holds the record for the most wins at the track, a total of 34.
Daytona International Speedway represents so much to so many people. It started as dream of a visionary named France. Today, Daytona thrives and fulfills the dreams of racers and fans. Despite the tragedies, Daytona will continue to grow as long as people have dreams.
Engdahl, David L. , AIA, DBIA (2007) Daytona International Speedway Renovation. Retrieved April 15, 2007 from http://www. aia. org/nwsltr_db. cfm? pagename=db_a_200603_engdahl Wikipedia Foundation, Inc. (2007) Daytona International Speedway. Retrieved April 15, 2007 from http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Daytona_International_Speedway