On Feb. 21, more than 100,000 racing fans will be in Daytona Beach, Florida, for the 58th edition of the Daytona 500 — NASCAR's biggest and most prestigious race.
In addition to the action on the famed 2.5-mile trioval track, fans will also get to enjoy the fruits of "Daytona Rising," a2 ½ year, $400 million redevelopment project. The effort has transformed the vintage Daytona International Speedway into a modern motor sports stadium.
The original folding metal seats have been replaced by more than 100,000 wider, more comfortable ones. The stands along the nearly mile-long front stretch have been rebuilt and raised, making room for three concourse levels accessed by stairs, escalators and elevators. In themed "neighborhoods" inside the concourses, fans will find new dining and merchandise concessions, plenty of TVs and video screens, complimentary Internet access, charging stations and a wide variety of interactive activities.
— By Harriet Baskas, special to CNBC.
Posted 14 Feb. 2016
Follow Road Warrior on Twitter at @CNBCtravel.
First opened in 1959, Daytona International Speedway is an iconic track that hosts numerous major racing events and a wide variety of concerts, car shows and other activities throughout the year. Still, the facility was in dire need of a face-lift.
The lack of "vertical transportation" wasn't welcoming to older fans who had to hike up many flights of stairs to reach their seats, Joie Chitwood III, president of Daytona International Speedway, told CNBC recently.
"And when younger fans came to our venue, we had nothing for them as it related to being connected and having fun," he added. "We had old seats and trough-style urinals. It was loud, it was outside and that was pretty much it."
Before the renovation, the seating capacity at Daytona speedway was 147,000. Afterward, 46,000 seats on the backstretch were removed, leaving 101,500 upgraded seats on the front stretch.
Some of the old backstretch seats are now being used on sports fields in area schools. Many of the old, folding metal front-stretch seats were sold to fans as souvenirs, while some were set aside for use in one of the dining areas of the refreshed stadium.
The new and improved facility now features permanent, durable plastic seats along the front stretch. At 20-inches wide, with seatbacks, armrests and cup holders, they are a big improvement over the track's old metal folding chairs. The new and improved stadium also has twice as many restrooms, three times as many concession stands and more than 60 luxury suites with impressive trackside views.
Before the renovations, reaching the best seats high above the racetrack required climbing many flights of stairs. New "vertical transportation" options, including 40 escalators and 17 elevators, are proving especially popular with older fans — and with families who have young children in tow.
Five expanded and redesigned gate entrances bring fans to sponsored "neighborhoods" in concourses along the front stretch. Chevrolet shows off its latest vehicles in one section, while Florida Hospital offers tips for healthy living, a waterfall and a relaxing, grassy lawn area in another. Toyota's neighborhood offers a wide variety of interactive activities, and a display honoring 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch.
Two full-fledged, air-conditioned shops and a wide variety of kiosk-style souvenir stands are now scattered throughout the stadium and the speedway grounds. The stadium also now offers more state-of-the-art bars and dining areas. An updated mobile app and 1,100 beacons help fans find their way around.
The Rolex 24 At Daytona Lounge in the upper level of the new stadium offers fans a little extra, with lounge-style seating, flat-screen TVs, Wi-Fi and mobile streaming support. It also features an elaborate buffet and bar and an outdoor patio, complete with spectacular views of the track.
Many aspects of the Daytona International Speedway experience haven't changed: during major events such as the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Daytona 500, thousands of fans still camp on the grounds. Fans are still permitted on the track during pre-race ceremonies.