by Lynda Keever
Updated 5 yearss ago
From early 1949 until the opening race at the Speedway 10 years later, the NASCAR-sanctioned races on Daytona Beach were run on a course that was half on asphalt, the other half on the hard-packed beach sand. It was Bill France Jr., the son of NASCAR founder William France Sr., whose job it was on those early race mornings to go along the beach to wake campers and tell them that a race would be run where they were sleeping. France is now chairman of International Speedway Corp., the company that built and owns the facility that is the driving economic force in Volusia County.
If you have never been to Daytona International Speedway (aka DIS), or if you haven't been there in years, you'll be amazed at the results of the multimillion-dollar renovation that took place over a six-month period late last summer. It is an understatement to say that the raceway has been transformed.
My husband, a longtime racing fan, and I attended the Daytona 500 in February as guests of my childhood friend Bob Coleman (now an executive with Florida Power & Light) and his wife, Bobbi. It is one of the most fan-friendly events and venues we've ever visited.
"Our renovation was based solely on the race fan," says DIS President Robin Braig. "We had the opportunity to provide our guests with something unique to many motorsports facilities. Our goal has always been to make "The World Center of Racing" unique and fan-friendly."
To give fans their money's worth, the action gets going hours before the drivers start their engines. The new NEXTEL FanZone area brings fans as close as possible to the garage, where race teams can be seen on the other side of the giant windows working on their cars. You can have your photo taken with the winner's trophy, walk on the track and sign your name on the start-finish line stripes. We did. There's so much entertainment that you feel almost like you're in a theme park. In fact, many of the engineers who worked on FanZone came from the design team that created Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure.
And the fans are definitely not the stereotyped hot dog and beer crowd. "Daytinis"and jumbo lump crabcakes with skewered shrimp are hot menu items at The Bistro.
The new Daytona 500 Club -- a four-story steel and glass building that is the backdrop for Victory Lane -- is a pricier spot to watch the races. Packages in the Club start at $2,500, and President's Row seating is limited to 80 guests paying $5,000 per seat. All of the new venues that were built for race fans and corporate entertainment during race time are available to community groups throughout the year.
International Speedway Corp. has been operating in Florida for 50-plus years. It takes a well-run company to survive that long, and it takes an exceptional company to reinvent itself for the next generation. The company bit a very expensive bullet to make DIS look not just new, but like it was built five years from now. The ability of company executives to understand and respond to the needs and desires of their customers is a good lesson for all of us who intend to be successful in the future.
Lynda Keever can be reached by e-mail at LKeever@floridatrend.com.