The flag went down a few days ago at the Daytona 500, and Daytona International Speedway roared into the 21st Century. Organizers of events at the track, which opened in 1959, could barely wait for visitors to see the facility following its $400 million renovation, which started right after the 2015 Daytona 500.
According to an article in Travel Weekly, renovations include more than 101,000 wider, more comfortable seats, free Wi-Fi throughout the speedway and more than 1,400 TV screens. The remodeled facility also contains twice as many restrooms and three times as many concession stands as it previously had.
Completed over the course of more than two years, the renovated facility also includes 11 football field-size social areas, or “neighborhoods,” as the track calls them, where fans can gather to dine, visit bars and restaurants and even charge their mobile devices.
Along with the Daytona 500, Daytona International Speedway hosts numerous other events throughout the year. On the schedule for 2016 are several races associated with Bike Week in early March, the Country 500 music festival on Memorial Day weekend and the NASCAR Coke 400 race on July 2.
The overall project, known as DAYTONA Rising, also includes five new entrances, 14 new elevators and five dozen luxury track-side suites, according to an article in the online version of ABC News.
“In the sports world, you're seeing massive investment in infrastructure, specifically new football, baseball and basketball venues," Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood told CNBC. "And if you've been to a new arena and then you came to a property like ours that was more than 50 years old, there was a stark difference."
"We decided we'd have to make improvements," said Chitwood. "And instead of Band-Aiding this or that, we decided to go all in."
And, he notes, the industry standard is changing. Daytona needs to keep up or be left behind by other arenas.
"The younger generation, especially, expects all these things in sports arenas now, and they expect to be able to be totally connected," said Chitwood. "So our goal is to go from being a race track to being a motor sports stadium."
"We're investing in a lot of new technology in the sport to attract the new fan and this new facility does that as well with all digital innovations that will be inclusive and encourage more fan engagement," said Brent Dewar, NASCAR's chief operating officer.
The upgrades also dovetail with some of NASCAR's goals of coloring outside the lines of its mostly white, male spectator demographic and appealing to the millennial generation and a more diverse fan base. NASCAR’s announcement last summer, for example, that it would continue to prohibit the Confederate flag from being flown in an official capacity was a way of reinforcing this philosophy.
The changes extend beyond the speedway grounds: The Daytona International Speedway Corp. has partnered with Jacoby Development to build ONE DAYTONA, a $1.2 billion, 181-acre, mixed-used entertainment, dining and retail center across from the speedway.
Fans who do attend events at the speedway "are a little different than those that attend other sports events," said Leary. "They come earlier, stay later and travel farther to do so," and spend an estimated $1.2 billion in the Daytona community throughout the year.