Racing’s Mecca Stays Ahead of Curve

Certain sports thought they were immune to it. That the live experience would always beat the at home one simply because the event was best consumed in person. We know that this thought process is false, and most sports seem to have come around. That is not to say some stadiums are not destinations in their own rights, but even the Wrigley’s and Lambeau’s of the world have spruced things up recently in an effort to do the difficult; lure fans back on a night-in and night-out or week-in and week-out basis.

This February, Daytona International Speedway debuted the two-years-in-the-making “Daytona Rising” project, which took DIS from the classic NASCAR “stands with seats and running water in the bathrooms” venue to a full-fledged, modern day stadium, the self-proclaimed only one in the sport. I recently had a chance to experience it on a race day by attending the Coke Zero 400 on July 2. Here is what they did right:

Purchase merchandise with ease

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The haulers are no more. Anyone who has experienced a NASCAR event before knows that large trucks, commonly called haulers, used to congregate near the track and open up on the side to sell driver specific merchandise. Jacksonville-based sports merchandise company Fanatics acquired the exclusive rights prior to the 2016 season and so the haulers have been replaced with large tents that feature images of the driver over the part of the tent that features the merchandise. The ability to browse yourself without guessing as to sizes and asking for help to reach items is already a huge improvement. Then comes the checkout, which takes place in a massive tent separate from the where you find the gear. I was in and out faster than airport security before a 5 A.M. flight. And all of this set up just feet from the track, much closer than it used to be at Daytona.

Beauty & Ease with Injectors

In a clever ode to the stock car racing theme, the four main gate entrances are now called “injectors”, and they allow for and easy and speedy entry into the 200-level of the stands. Different companies who have tried to out-flash each other sponsor all four injectors. Bright images, welcoming colors adorn the walls by the stairs and escalators (yes, there are escalators!) & the Toyota sponsored one even has life size replicas of every Toyota manufactured car the competes in the senior circuit. The ease in we entered and exited did not go unnoticed, mostly by my lack of heavy breathing when we reached the 400-level of the stands.

Proper Mix for Concessions

People like to eat at events, they also don’t want some dried up hot dog or overpriced sushi. DIS hit the nail on the head with a re-theming of concession area and opening things up with more food carts , while also allowing fans to continue to bring in their own snacks, as long as they are in a clear bag. Oh, and you can still bring your own beer in as well, which is a huge part of what sets NASCAR races apart.

Putting You Closer to the Action By Building Higher

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There used to be a 45,000 seat grandstand on the backstretch, or “Superstretch,” at DIS which offered less expensive seating at the cost of not being able to see pit road or the start/finish line, and being a long way from the “Midway” area outside of the main grandstand that has interactive exhibits and now the Fanatics merchandise area. In order to make up for some of this lost capacity (official numbers saw the amount of permanent seats reduced by about one-third after the changes) the track built up, literally. By adding a 400 level of stands, you were able to put more seats on the coveted frontstretch while also creating a quieter vantage point that allowed for views of the Superstretch like never before. I sat there, and I would recommend it to anyone. Sometimes higher is better.

Some race fans, like any sports fans, will continue to attend live races purely because they enjoy the experience. Others, like many sports fans, need that extra incentive to leave the comfort of home and spend money at an event. Daytona International Speedway has followed the mold of many other sporting venues around the country, and it has raised the bar for speedways everywhere.