Address: Daytona International Speedway, 1801 International Speedway Boulevard, Daytona Beach, FL 32114
PH: +1 386-254-2700
Circuit type: Permanent oval and road courses
The self-proclaimed 'World Center of Racing', Daytona has been a fixture at the heart of the stock racing calendar since the advent of NASCAR, emerging from Bill France's dream to build something more permanent to replace the hard sands of Daytona Beach to become a multi-use oval and road course catering for more than 100,000 fans.
While Daytona Beach had been a favoured venue for land speed record attempts since the turn of the century, the idea of holding racing events did not really take off until the 1930s. Legend has it that Bill France Sr. was heading south to a prospective new start in Miami in 1934, when his car broke down in Daytona Beach and he decided to settle there instead. He entered the beach race for the first time in 1935 and three years later had taken over the promotion of the races.
It was the beginning of a new dynasty. Along with several others, he founded NASCAR at the end of the war and the racing expanded and flourished. But such was the increase in speeds and, with a similar upsurge in Daytona Beach's popularity as a destination for holidaymakers, the days of racing along the beachfront were always going to be numbered.
France's solution was to build a permanent speedway facility. He met with Daytona Beach engineer Charles Moneypenney to discuss his plans – which were exacting. He wanted to have the highest banking possible to allow the cars to reach high speeds and to give fans a better view of the cars on track. Searching for solutions, Moneypenney travelled to the Ford Proving Grounds in Detroit which boasted a high speed test track with banked corners. Ford shared their engineering data, providing the needed know-how required to transition the pavement from a flat straightaway to a banked corner.
The Daytona Beach city commission lent their support by agreeing to lease of parcel of land next to the airport for the sum of $10,000 a year over a 50 year period. The Daytona Beach Speedway Authority was formed as a result to see through the works.
Next, France began the task of raising the funding for construction. He found support from a Texas oil millionaire, Clint Murchison who loaned $600,000 along with the construction equipment necessary to build the track. France found additional funding from Pepsi-Cola and General Motors designer Harley Earl, then remortgaged his own home and sold 300,000 stock shares to local residents. Ground broke on construction of the 2.5-mile (4.0 km) speedway on November 25, 1957.
The tri-oval layout featured banking at 18 degrees at the start line and imposing 31 degree banking in the turns. To build the high banking, crews had to dig out millions of tons of the soil from the track's infield. The resulting hole was submerged due to the high water table in the area, creating an artificial lake. It was eventually dubbed Lake Lloyd, after Joseph "Sax" Lloyd, one of the original six members of the Daytona Beach Speedway Authority.
Construction costs escalated, not least due to the difficulties of building on sandy ground and paving the steep inclines of the banking. Moneypenny's solution was to connect the paving equipment to bulldozers anchored at the top of the banking, allowing the surface to be created without equipment slipping or rolling down the incline. The technique was subsequently patented and later used in the construction of Talladega Superspeedway and Michigan International Speedway.
Funding ran short and France financed the final stage of construction through advanced ticket sales. Finally, the track opened for business with the first practice runs on February 6, 1959. Compared to what the NASCAR racers were used to on the beachfront, it was a massive step forward. Spectators too were well-catered for, with around 90 percent of the course visible from the grandstands.
On February 22, 1959, 42,000 people attended the inaugural Daytona 500 and witnessed an exciting finish as Lee Petty narrowly beat out Johnny Beauchamp in a photo-finish that took three days to adjudicate. The legend was well on the way to being established and the Daytona 500 would soon become NASCAR's blue riband event.
France, as ever ambitious, has his eye on establishing his new venue with an international audience and put up a $10,000 prize for anyone lapping at over 180 mph. By way of context, the closed course speed record then stood at 177 mph, achieved by Tony Bettenhausen during the famous 'Race of Two Worlds' in 1957. Marshall Teague decided he would take up the challenge and began lapping Daytona in a streamlined version of his regular USAC roadster during testing in February 1959, nudging up to 171.821 mph (276.5 km/h), markedly improved Ed Elisian's unofficial 148-mph-one-lap record for an American race track.
The following day, attempts were thwarted by a cut tyre so it was on February 11 that he made his final attempt. He had got up to an estimated 140mph average when he crashed violently at Turn 3, possibly due to a gust of wind upsetting the car. Teague was thrown from the car and killed instantly, thus becoming the circuit's first fatality.
It was against this grim backdrop that the USAC cars lined up for what would turn out to be a one-off Champ Car race on April 4, which saw the Indy roadsters competing on the high banking in what was, at the time, the world's fastest race. George Amick took the pole but summed up what many open-wheeled racers thought of the place when he told Sports Illustrated: "If you lose it here, your rump is grape."
In the race, Jim Rathmann beat brother Dick and Rodger Ward over 100 miles at an average speed of 170.26 mph (274.01 km/h). The event sadly also provided further grim confirmation of the track's dangers, when George Amick's sad prophecy came true. He was attempting to move up to third passing Bob Christie on the last lap when, for reasons unknown, his car jerked out of control and nosed under the single-height retaining Armco barrier, sending it into a series of violent rolls. Daytona had claimed its second death in a matter of months. It prompted USAC officials to declare the high-banked oval off limits to its racers, who never returned.
There was, however, life beyond NASCAR. A series of road courses around the infield were completed in the summer of 1959 with the addition of what would subsequently be called the International Horseshoe bend (later also named in honour of the late sportscar ace Pedro Rodríguez, a favorite of France's). It soon began hosting sportscar events, with several SCCA road races organised that year. A variety of infield variations could be used to form 3.81 miles-, 3.10 miles- and 1.63 miles-long courses, with smaller capacity cars tending to use the shorter variants. Initially, the road courses were all traversed in a clockwise direction - the opposite way round to the main oval course.
The Daytona Continental three hours race was established in 1962, extending to 2000km in 1964, and again to 24 hours in 1966. Save for truncated and cancelled races during the fuel crisis in the mid-1970s, the 24 hour endurance event has become the traditional opening to the sportscar season each February. Being a winter race, a large number of laps are run in darkness and many consider it a more gruelling event than the more famous 24 hours at Le Mans.
Race direction was switched to clockwise for all course variations from the Daytona Continental onwards, the first event of which witnessed the sight of Dan Gurney breaking down just ahead of the start-finish line, only to coast down across the finish by gravity when the chequered flag was unfurled, saving victory in the process. It would lead to the instigation of international rules that, henceforward, cars would need to be running to be classified as race-winners.
Aside from a modified pit lane exit for the road course in 1967 and improvements to the retaining barriers, there were no major changes to the circuit until 1973, when a bus stop chicane was introduced at the end of the backstraight to slow speeds into the banked final oval turn when the road course was in use. This was as much in aid of the two-wheeled racers of the Daytona 200 race, where speeds were beginning to test tyre technology to the maximum. This was evidenced no more starkly than in 1975, when Barry Sheene had a fearsome crash in practice, breaking his left thigh, right arm, collarbone and two ribs when the rear wheel of his Suzuki locked up at high speed.
In 1976, Turns 6 and 7 of the road course were extensively rebuilt, forming a sharper double-apex corner, with a straightened approach leading up to it. The new course measured 3.87-miles and also featured an infield portion which could be run independently from the oval. Minor modifications were made to the chicane in 1979, when the entry was eased to create a smoother transition.
Further changes were made in 1984, when the chicane was elongated, with a new entry built approximately 400 feet (120 m) earlier. This resulted in a longer, three-legged, "bus stop" shape. Cars would now enter in the first leg, bypass the second leg, and exit out of the existing third leg, creating a greater passing opportunity. The bike racers continued to use the previous version of the chicane, however.
More substantial changes came the following year, when the first series of turns on the road course were substantially modified, with the insertion of an esse bend leading onto a realigned straight running to the International Horseshoe at Turn 3. This too was modified, being brought forward a considerable distance and reprofiled into a tight in, fast out turn. The lap length reduced to 3.56 miles as a result.
Then came a period of relative stability, with no further layout revisions for more than 15 years. Lights were installed around the track in 1998 to run NASCAR's July race, the Coke Zero 400 at night. The track was the world's largest single lighted outdoor sports facility until being surpassed by Losail International Circuit in 2008. The 24 hours remained largely run in darkness however; only 20 percent of the lighting is employed at night during the endurance classic.
A new infield course was unveiled in 2002, extending out beyond the International Horseshoe in a new loop before rejoining ahead of Turn 4 and then utilising roads that once formed part of the SCCA courses from the earliest days of sportscar racing. Unused for racing, its main use was by the Skip Barber Racing School.
The chicane was revised in 2003, with the middle leg repaved and widened to allow both cars to enter through the first leg, and exit out of the second leg, with the aim of creating a smoother rejoin to the main circuit, removing some of the bumps experienced with the original chicane. Motorcycle racers would continue to enter via the middle leg and exit via the third, however, until 2005, when the third leg was abandoned altogether. It was dug up and grassed over in 2010.
The continuing pace of motorcycle development was once again beginning to cause concerns for the sports organisers, particularly for the blue ribband Daytona 200 event. The AMA Superbikes were now considered too fast, with tyre trouble proving a factor on the banking. A switch to the slower Formula Xtreme was made for the prestigious main race, while a new dedicated motorcycle course was unveiled, which would allow the bypassing of the Turn 2 and 3 banking altogether.
The new course wasn't particularly popular however and, despite further modification in 2009 when a revised entry to the International Horseshoe was debuted, by 2010, the two-wheel racers reverted to the normal road course. This used almost the same layout as the 24 Hours, albeit with the tighter variation at the International Horseshoe.
The entire oval track was resurfaced in 2010, a year ahead of schedule after problems had been experienced at that February's Daytona 500, when parts of the track surface came apart. An estimated 50,000 tons of asphalt was used to repave the racing surface, apron, skid pads and pit road, with the project being completed ahead of schedule.
A new innovation debuted in 2013, when a temporary short track was constructed on the skid pan area along the backstretch, for NASCAR's lower-tier series to compete at during Speedweeks. The 0.4-mile (0.64 km) course featured relatively tight turns lined by tyre stacks, with a temporary pits established on the chicane. The 'UNOH Battle at the Beach' followed a similar format to the Toyota All-Star Showdown which has previously been held at Irwindale Speedway.
In 2014, the short circuit was modified, with the turns slightly eased and the straights slightly shortened, to create a 1,980-foot (603.50 m) oval. However, the event was not repeated for 2015, as the backstretch grandstands had been demolished as part of the 'Daytona Rising' project, replaced by a parking area.
The renovation project came as part of a $400 million investment to totally transform the spectator experience, particularly for the twice yearly NASCAR events. Five expanded and redesigned entrances, known as "injectors," lead fans to a series of escalators and elevators, transporting them to three different concourse levels. Each level features spacious social areas along the nearly mile-long frontstretch.
At the conclusion of the redevelopment, Daytona International Speedway can now boast around 101,500 permanent, wider and more comfortable seats, twice as many restrooms and three times as many concession stands. In addition, the Speedway now features over 60 luxury suites with track side views and a completely revamped hospitality experience for corporate guests.
The project officially broke ground in early July 2013 and was completed in time for the 2016 Rolex 24 At Daytona and DAYTONA 500.
Daytona International Speedway is located in central Florida at Daytona Beach. It is easily reached via I-95 from the north and south or I-4 from the west. Free parking is available in the speedway’s parking lots, with a free park and ride service to and from the circuit before and after races. The nearest airport is Daytona Beach International Airport, adjacent to the circuit, while Orlando International is a 65 minute drive away to the south west. ESCOT Bus Lines provides shuttle service from multiple locations in central Florida to the speedway for the Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400 NASCAR events. Visit their website for details.