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Challenge Daytona Kicking Sand in COVID’s Face with Family-Friendly Event

11 Sep, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Down in Daytona Beach, they’re planning to kick some sand in COVID’s face and the sports world is more than ready. On the docket is Challenge Daytona, a family-friendly and spectator-welcoming festival of sports that includes not only the motor sports ambience (after all, this IS Daytona) but triathlon, duathlon, junior events, foot races and a pro-am.

The festival, which will run December 4-6, incorporates the Daytona International Speedway into all aspects of the event. And, representatives note, while the race experience will be different from years past, the end result will be an event that athletes, spectators and vendors will enjoy participating in.

Bill Christy, CEO at Challenge North America, noted in an e-mail, “We are excited about the Challenge Daytona festival and want to share with you our enthusiasm about being able to put on a premier event at the World Center of Racing.”

Events planned for the festival include the following:

  • Middle distance individual, relay, duathlon and aquabike
  • Junior Challenge
  • Sprint distance triathlon and duathlon
  • 5K and 10K walk or run
  • Pro Am ‘Under the Lights’
  • 100K Pro Race
  • Live action of the age group athletes on the jumbotrons for family to keep up with athlete performance

Shannon Schmidt, who manages communications for the event, notes that this year’s festivities will differ markedly from those of previous years. The race is one of the largest international sports events in Florida, with a diverse roster of age groups and pro athletes from around the world taking part.

“From an operational perspective, there will, of course, be modifications to the 2020 event,” Schmidt notes. “Our team is working collaboratively with local/state health officials along with our sponsoring hospitals to plan, prepare and implement needed protocols for the conditions that present at race time. We will share specific protocols as we approach the race, what may or may not be pertinent today, may or may not be penitent in December, therefore we want to provide our athletes with clear communication and messaging to the conditions as the race approaches.”

Last year’s event, she notes, brought in several thousand events.  “We anticipate similar participation rates in 2020. We had 1,900 in 2019, and we expect 3,000-to 5,000 in 2020.”

This year, to maintain a more healthful atmosphere, each race, including the sprint distance, middle distance, 5K, 10K and so on, will be limited to 2,000 athletes.

The swim course also includes special directions for participants; those can be found at this link and include a rolling start grouped in waves of swimmers according to speed. Athletes will enter the water one at a time, proceeding down the ramp and into the Lake Lloyd. An estimated 20 athletes per minute will be allowed to enter the water.

At the same time, Schmidt notes, organizers are balancing the needs of those who make it a point to attend each year.

“Our event is produced by athletes for athletes, and because of that, our ears are close to what fans truly want out of a race experience and 2020 will certainly deliver upon that. Our family friendly festival weekend at iconic Daytona International Speedway has an event for every athlete, in addition to entertainment and activities to keep the whole family entertained.”

The roster of events this year, she adds, includes the $1million PTO Championship event, which will be livestreamed. In addition, jumbotrons will provide live coverage of age group athlete races.

“Our spectators will enjoy an enhanced viewing area that has been changed a bit with feedback from last year's athletes. With the PTO World Championship event, our pro athlete meet and greet is a fan favorite. Safety is our commitment to our fellow athletes, and athletes and their fans will enjoy dedicated lanes for our middle distance athletes who bike out on the road course. Fans also enjoy the opportunity to RV camp onsite at Daytona International Speedway. This year we have partnered with Giant Recreation World to rent RV's to fans and athletes so they can enjoy the nonstop action from the comfort of Daytona Speedway.”

The NASCAR Foundation is planning to provide experiences including an opportunity to participate in a hot lap, which allows fans to ride shotgun in an official pace car around Daytona International Speedway.

Other events that are NASCAR -inspired include the “Pit Stop Challenge,” which dares triathletes to ride into the pit lane and replace their two bike tires as fast as possible, in a race against the clock.

The ultimate test, Schmidt notes, will come in the form of feedback submitted by the athletes, their families and spectators. Balancing the goal of a good race experience with the overarching need to keep all user groups safe, however, is a challenge – and nowhere is that more evident than in events that are planned for children.

“Our ears are close to the sentiments of athletes and what we know is safety and family are critical. Athletes require a safe race environment that also allows them to experience the race weekend with their loved ones of all ages. We survey athletes, pro athletes and fans and commit to continual improvement. To this end, we have a commitment to our next generation of great athletes and that is why youth events are key to our festival. Whether youth participate in a 5K or our Junior Challenge triathlon, we believe providing opportunities to children is critical to the future of our sport.”

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