Daytona Raceway Tours

Daytona Raceway tours are a way of getting close to the action and a behind the scenes experience of one of the most famous race tracks in the United States of America. I took time out to experience a one and a half hour tour of the famous Daytona Raceway prior to ending a recent trip to Florida.

A NASCAR car found at the Daytona racetrack

A NASCAR car found at the Daytona racetrack

Whether you call it a racetrack, road race, speedway or raceway doesn’t matter, they all relate to the same thing and that is car racing, more specifically NASCAR (NASCAR means National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing – or for some Non-Athletic Sport Created Around Rednecks). There are numerous versions of motor racing and Daytona Beach or more specifically the “Daytona 500” is the most famous NASCAR race for me.

 

I will be totally honest with you, motor racing bores me. It really does. I have close to zero interest.

 

The only reasons I went to the Daytona Raceway are:-

  • it was literally outside of my hotel
  • I’ve heard of the race
  • A colleague recommended it to me as something to do whilst filling my time before flying home

 

Going into the Daytona Raceway tours I tried to have an open mind and thought here is an opportunity to give the “sport” (I use the term loosely) a chance to prove itself to me. Whilst I give credit that there is a high level of skill involved the terms “motor” and “sport” are a paradox for me. How can you have a sport when you are using an engineered machine? I know many readers will disagree with me but it is only fair that I set out my position before visiting the Daytona Raceway.

 

Tours run throughout most of the year and vary in options. A half hour “Speedway Tour” cost $16 for adults in December 2013. There is then the one and a half hour “All Access Tour” for $23 which I took for my NASCAR experience. Alternatively you could pre-arrange an exclusive VIP Tour with a private guide on select dates in the month (although I’m not sure of the cost).

 

I went on an 11am tour and was soon informed that the Daytona raceway track is being used close to 360 days of the year. Not only is it used by NASCAR but many private organisations hire the track for exclusive use. There is also the “Petty Driving Experience” where either a driver can take you around at 170 mph in a race stock car or you can drive yourself! Now that would alert my interest in the Daytona raceway (doing rather than watching). However I understand that it is quite pricey and needs booking a fair way in advance.

 

Our tour in December was fairly quiet, there were only a handful of people on the tour. We were advised though that the Daytona raceway tours get busy after Christmas with maybe 3-4,000 visitors a day.

 

It was soon explained to us that the creator for the site was Bill France, a car mechanic who would be a key figure in the development of NASCAR as an organisation. Previously cars were raced on the long, straight stretch of Daytona Beach. Now they were going to get a designed track.

 

The Daytona raceway track was built between 1957-1959. We were told how Bill France went to look at the Indianapolis raceway but was denied entry. Out of spite for this action he designed the Daytona International Speedway so that with a 31 degree bank Indy cars were not able to race on the track, yet NASCAR vehicles were still able to manage on Indy tracks. Already the Daytona NASCAR track was striking out to be unique. For the main differences between NASCAR and Indy car see here because it really is not my area of expertise.

This shows you how steep the bank incline is on the Daytona raceway track

This shows you how steep the bank incline is on the Daytona raceway track

The Daytona raceway is a 2 ½ mile track. It was soon clear who the dumb Brit was when I asked the question why is the race called the “Daytona 500”? The reason being is that it is 200 laps of the 2 ½ mile raceway track. (See, I don’t like motor sport – how was I supposed to know?)

 

Our tour guide took us around in a set of tourist shuttle carts pulled by a 4 X 4 vehicle. We rode along the Daytona raceway and even walked on it. We were able to appreciate how steep the banks were, 31 degrees apparently and they are steep.

Admiring the bank incline on the Daytona raceway

Admiring the bank incline on the Daytona raceway

We also saw the pit stop areas on the Daytona raceway.

Each light represents a pit stop at the Daytona raceway

Each light represents a pit stop at the Daytona raceway

Our All Access Tour also brought us into one of the Corporate Boxes which lay directly across from the main stand. It looks as though a lot of people could fit in these Corporate Boxes. With a bar area in the corner, complimentary food and lots of space, guests can mingle and wander whilst enduring what can be a 4-5 hour car race. Labelling itself as “The Great American Race” we were told that it took around 15 hours to complete the race in 2011 due to various delays. Now the Corporate Box is where I’d like to be on a day like that!

View of Daytona Raceway from a Corporate box

View of Daytona Raceway from a Corporate box

The basic rules of the race were also explained to us whilst we were in the Corporate boxes. The Daytona raceway track has a yellow line marked on the track. All competing cars have to keep to the right of the yellow line whilst driving in an anti-clockwise direction around the circular track. Whilst the track is level (flat) there is only a narrow lane to drive along. When the track banks in turns the yellow line moves down widening the track and providing opportunity to overtake.

 

The Daytona Raceway can hold around 200,000 people on a race day. This is a big event. However this number is going to be reducing in the near future. Construction has begun already on the main stand for a project called “Daytona Rising”. This project will see the main stand have more comfy seats, TV screens all across the lobby areas and the creation of what are deemed entertainment complexes within the stand. Daytona Rising will be complete by January 2016 and is costing many millions of dollars.

 

Naturally with 200,000 people descending on the raceway this is going to be a big stretch for a relatively small town like Daytona Beach. All the hotels are fully booked as are many as far away as Orlando. So as an alternative there are RV (Recreational Vehicle) parking spots both outside and inside the Daytona raceway. Just imagine spending 4-5 days living in the middle of a race track and seeing cars whizzing around you every day at up to 200 mph!

Daytona 500 Victory Lane or winners podium

Daytona 500 Victory Lane or winners podium

As part of the Daytona raceway tour we were taken to the victory podium where you could have your picture taken on the 1st place stand. This is located beside what is called the Daytona 500 Club. This exclusive membership club (of 500 members) provides perfect viewing positions from the middle of the raceway. For around $7,000 per year you can attend 7 events a year whilst enjoying all the food you can eat and drink in the Daytona 500 Club lounge. You also get prime viewing position at the media circle surrounding the winners podium.

Each light represents a pit stop at the Daytona raceway

Each light represents a pit stop at the Daytona raceway

We also drove past the pit stop area on the track where it was explained that drivers could use between 9 – 14 sets of tyres during a race. That is a lot of pit stops.

 

The Fan Zone area was also part of the tour. Here you were by the garages where you could see drivers in their cars and maybe grab an autograph or two.

Window to a garage where you might get an autograph at the Daytona 500

Window to a garage where you might get an autograph at the Daytona 500

There was also the inspection zone where cars are tested to make sure they comply with race regulations on weight and design. It was interesting to hear that cars with the driver inside have to a specific weight at the start and end of the race. This makes it interesting since some drivers can be over 6 foot tall whilst NASCAR also has female drivers. Until now the only female NASCAR racing driver I’d heard of is Danica Patrick. At 5ft 2” tall she seems to be the pin up girl racing driver at the moment and features heavily on Go Daddy adverts. I dare say she is quite light so cars will have to have weight added to even things up.

Danica Patrick the female image of NASCAR

Danica Patrick the female image of NASCAR

Then we got to the interesting bit, for me at least. As I said earlier I still don’t view Motor Sport as a sport. However I appreciate that there is a high level of skill involved. Our tour guide talked about the level of endurance required, physical demands and why he believes it is one of the toughest sport going.

 

For example he said that drivers typically can be driving up to 200 mph for roughly 4-5 hours. This will provide a force of 2G, the effect of which he described as pushing your cheeks from your face to your ears. Drivers can lose between 7-10% of their body weight during the race (poor Danica Patrick, no wonder she is so slim!). Also the inside of the cars can get to temperatures of 120F, that is hot. The Daytona raceway is also very dangerous with more than 35 fatalities on the track since it was opened. The most famous casualty was race driver Dale Earnhardt dying on 18th February 2001 during a Daytona 500 race. Drivers, you have my respect.

 

Our Daytona Raceway tour guide then talked about the “Richard Petty Driving Experience” where you can either be driven around the track at around 170mph by a professional driver or even drive yourself. He quoted that some American big name basketball star was driven around the track and hated it. Even though he was supposed to have 3 laps round the track this basketball star hated the experience so much that he threatened to kill his driver if he didn’t stop and let him out.

Daytona claims to be The World Center of Racing

Daytona claims to be The World Center of Racing

I’m a little perplexed as to why the race track labels itself as “The World Center of Racing”. Yes it is a famous race yet somehow as a foreigner it seems to be very North America focused. I only ever see coverage of the race when I’m in the US. When I’m in Europe, Asia or Australia I’ll often hear and see coverage of Formula 1 races but not NASCAR. To be honest I don’t think many people outside of North America care one iota about NASCAR. Maybe by calling itself The World Center of Racing this is Americans bigging it up just like they claim Daytona Beach to be the most famous beach in the world.

 

I must admit that I was glad to take the Daytona Raceway tour. It is not something specifically that will generate my long term interest. However I believe in having an open mind to help form my opinion. There is little doubt that the Daytona 500 race is physically demanding and a test of endurance and skill. The number of fatalities on the Daytona raceway highlights the dangers involved. I may now having a passing glance of NASCAR races when they are on TV. However I still think that using an engineered machine running on petrol generated power means that I personally will never view this as a sport.

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Comments

  1. says

    I have to agree to some extent, it isn’t a sport involving as much skill as some others but the drivers have to be in great physical condition and it takes a lot of practice to get to the top. Glad to hear you enjoyed the tour though! :)

    • says

      Hi Andrew, I agree. There are a lot of physical demands and great skill in this type of event. Maybe a bit boring for some though with cars just going around in a circle for many hours.

      Yes, the tour was certainly very worthwhile. I went with the intent of an open mind approach and learnt a fair bit about the venue and the event. Now that I know more it is always something I can relate to when I hear about it in the future.

  2. says

    Nice write up. I have been to a few NASCAR races myself, and to Daytona too many years ago during Spring Break.

    Even though I am not a huge fan of car racing I consider it much more of sport than golf which I view as utterly boring and one that does not need one to be in great shape to play. Race car drivers go through much more physically than golfers do.

    It’s funny though that NASCAR did have it’s roots started by the Rum Runners during the Prohibition era. (Boy, that was a dumb idea!)

    • says

      We have so much in common Phil this is untrue! I hate golf too. Far too slow for me to have any interest in it. Sometimes when I am in PA I stay in a hotel which overlooks a golf course. Every time I look out of the window I see golfers whizzing around in golf buggies. That isn’t proper exercise, you are just going for a drive around a field! We are agreed that this car racing requires a lot of physical exertion.

      I’d heard that too about the prohibition period being a trigger for all these runs. Quite fitting that lots of drinking is now associated with the car races :-)

  3. says

    I have never actually made it to a car race before. I like you don’t have a significant interest in watching a car drive around the track a bunch of times, but the science of it can be interesting. I think that alone could hold ones attention for at least a while. The history behind NASCAR is also racy, no pun intended.

    • says

      Yes, I think the science bit is what truly took my interest. As a spectator sport I’m not sure it appeals to me.

      You also make a good point about the history of the sport, now that would make quite an interesting read with some first hand accounts :-)

  4. says

    I’m with you: car racing doesn’t really excite me, but if I were in the area, I’d probably take the tour, too. I read this post to see whether it might be something I’d like to treat my son to. I think he’d enjoy it, but maybe I’ll leave it up to his dad to take him. They’d have much more fun.

    • says

      Hi Juliann, I’m glad that you enjoyed the review and found it useful. If his Dad is more into motor sport then that is probably the best way to go. There are lots of other things to do around Daytona for you whilst they are tied up in a tour :-)

  5. Chanelle Boshuizen says

    I went racing once and it has to be one of the most exhilarating and the most frightening moment in my life. I don’t know but it gives off a different kind of thrill, the excitement and the adrenaline is just something else.

    • says

      Hi Chanelle, thanks for sharing your experience. Yes I dare say the frightening adrenaline rush is what really makes it an amazing experience.

Trackbacks

  1. […] My workplace for this trip was maybe a couple of miles from the speed track, even still I could clearly hear the thundering sound of cars going around the track. Apparently you can book to drive around the track in one of the race cars which is admittedly quite exciting for any driver. Or take a tour. […]

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