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.
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.
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.
We also saw the pit stop areas on 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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.