Updated:DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.,None —
Race fans packed the Daytona International Speedway on Thursday for the first race of the Gatorade Duel, which began at 2:00 p.m.
The Gatorade Duel is the last qualifying race for the Daytona 500 on Sunday.
Race fan, Candi Mintz, told WFTV that speed week is a once-a-year pilgrimage.
"Let me tell you something, once you have experienced a live race, you will be totally hooked," said Mintz.
Fans are flocking to Daytona Beach this week from 50 states and 36 countries for a series of races that culminate with Sundays Daytona 500.
"People out here seem to be having a pretty good time?" asked WFTV reporter Drew Petrimoulx.
"I've met more people at a picnic table and people just come up," said race fan Rustin Shriner.
By the time the events are finished, officials said about $150 million will be pumped into the local economy.
Speedway officials said ticket sales for the Daytona 500 are on par with last year when 180,000 people packed the seats and lawn.
Recent polls show Americans are feeling better about the economy, which is good news for local vendors.
"I absolutely have seen it. It's coming back around and I'm so glad to see it," said Mintz.
The Daytona Beach Chamber of Commerce told WFTV that hotel occupancy rates are at about 90 percent.
Meanwhile, there was a scary moment for race car driver Danica Patrick in the first duel race.
On the last lap, Patrick was involved in a wreck, which destroyed her car.
Patrick is OK and said she will start the 500 on Sunday in a backup car.
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