DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Daytona International Speedway broke ground Friday on another facelift, this one considerably bigger than the last.
Three years after a complete repaving project, the famed track is overhauling the front stretch to enhance the "fan experience."
International Speedway Corp., which owns Daytona and 12 other NASCAR tracks, announced funding approval. ISC estimates the redesign with cost about $400 million.
Friday's groundbreaking started with a race between three teams with a pair of drivers on each team. They raced 500 feet in front end loaders, switched drivers, scooped sand and had to dump it.
Trevor Bayne and Greg Biffle came out on top and earned the honor of breaking ground on the redevelopment of the grand stands.
"They want to keep improving the experience for the fan, and I think that's really important not to lose sight of," said Bayne. "They've always been good at that and hopefully they will continue and when this place is all updated and
renovated, it's going to draw more people in."
Daytona had hoped to get some public funding, but the Florida House of Representatives declined to even vote on a bill that would have provided financial assistance to several sporting venues in the Sunshine State.
ISC pushed forward anyway, scheduling the project to begin Friday and be completed by January 2016, in time for the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Daytona 500.
The redevelopment will give Daytona's aging grandstands a modern look and feel. It will include expanded entrances and a series of escalators and elevators to transport fans to three different concourse levels, each featuring spacious and strategically-placed social "neighborhoods" along the nearly mile-long
Those 11 neighborhoods, each measuring the size of a football field, will allow fans to meet and socialize during events without ever missing any on-track action.
Hundreds of long time Speedway employees and fans watched with excitement.
"Be great to have escalators for us handicapped people," said race fan Craig Mortimer.
"What was really cool was the ‘350 years of employees.’ It shows that we're about loyalty and family," race fan Jo Parris said.
"We are truly creating history with this unprecedented endeavor," ISC CEO Lesa France Kennedy said. "I commend the board's decision to move forward on our plan to redevelop the company's signature motorsports facility, thereby shaping the vision of Daytona for the next 50 years.
"The decision was made with strong consideration of the current macroeconomic condition and a clear view for our long-term growth. This significant private investment is a strategic use of our capital that will ensure the long-term viability of the iconic speedway, and when completed, will contribute favorably to the company's revenues, as well as to our community and the sport as a whole."
Back stretch grandstands will be removed while wider and more comfortable seating will be installed throughout the front stretch. When the project is complete, Daytona will have reduced its capacity by 46,000 seats to 101,000. However, the speedway could expand it to 125,000 for future growth.
"We've got a property that's been here since 1959. That's not going to change. What we're going to focus on are the amenities around it and the grandstand," said Joie Chitwood, speedway president.