Daytona International Speedway renovation ready for debut this weekend

In this Feb. 13, 2016, photo, guests walk to one of the escalators at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. The project was such a massive undertaking that architects had to account for the curvature of the Earth. It also got its own nickname, "Daytona Rising." Now, the $400 million renovation to Daytona International Speedway is complete and ready for its big debut. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The project was such a massive undertaking that architects had to account for the curvature of the Earth.

It included 31 million pounds of steel, 101,000 new seats, 40 escalators, 17 elevators and stretched nearly a mile. It took 2 1/2 years to complete and even had its own nickname: Daytona Rising.

It was a mammoth, $400 million makeover to NASCAR’s most famous track, a ground-up restoration that turned some old, rickety grandstands into the world’s finest motorsports stadium.

The Daytona International Speedway renovation is complete and ready for its official debut — at the season-opening Daytona 500 on Sunday.

 In this Feb. 13, 2016 photo, a box suite is shown in the grandstands near the finish line of the at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. The project was such a massive undertaking that architects had to account for the curvature of the Earth. It also got its own nickname, "Daytona Rising." Now, the $400 million renovation to Daytona International Speedway is complete and ready for its big debut. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

In this Feb. 13, 2016 photo, a box suite is shown in the grandstands near the finish line of the at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. The project was such a massive undertaking that architects had to account for the curvature of the Earth. It also got its own nickname, “Daytona Rising.” Now, the $400 million renovation to Daytona International Speedway is complete and ready for its big debut. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

“We want people to be blown away when they come to this property,” track president Joie Chitwood III said. “You think about the history and the heritage, the legends of our sport made their name here, and now this property really matches that.”

Daytona Rising has turned heads and left visitors in awe since its completion last month. It boasts vibrant colors, grandiose displays and unique exhibits — and that’s just outside the stadium walls.

Inside, the finished product is home to more than 100,000 square feet of fan engagement space.

“It’s like a football stadium, but taken to the next level and magnified 20 times,” former Daytona 500 champion Jamie McMurray said.

 Chase Elliott (24) and Dale Earnhardt Jr (88) lead the field at the start of the first of two qualifying races for Sunday's NASCAR Daytona 500 Sprint Cup series auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

Chase Elliott (24) and Dale Earnhardt Jr (88) lead the field at the start of the first of two qualifying races for Sunday’s NASCAR Daytona 500 Sprint Cup series auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

Daytona Rising was designed to meet the ever-increasing demand to improve the fan experience. Twenty-year-old stadiums are considered outdated. Burgers, hot dogs, pretzels and beer are no longer enough at sporting events.

High-definition televisions have made it even tougher to convince people to get off their couches and pay for expensive tickets.

International Speedway Corp., NASCAR’s sister company that owns a dozen tracks including Daytona, took all of those factors into account when it started planning the redesign.

“It doesn’t make sense in this day and age to sell a subpar experience. And if you sell a subpar experience, you would expect the fan to not come back,” Chitwood said.

“When you look at what it takes for a customer to come to Daytona — airfare, hotel, gas — they’re making a big investment. I think we have a property now that justifies that investment. I think you can make a case we probably weren’t making a good case for that investment in years past.”

The centerpieces of the redesign are the injectors, five fan entrances that showcase sponsors and include more than 20,000 square feet of educational and entertainment space. The injectors also include bigger and more bathroom locations and countless dining choices. Throw in more than 1,200 televisions, and fans can leave their seats without missing any on-track action.

Toyota got in first and appears to have spent the most money on its displays, which include an off-road ride-along experience, its entire lineup of current models and even a replica of the nose of the Space Shuttle Endeavor that a Toyota Tundra pulled across a California overpass in 2012.

It has race cars hanging from the ceiling, interactive video games, personal stories about key employees and even a free Ferris wheel out front.

“We started developing long before anybody else, and because of the way we always worked, we always do things looking in our rear-view mirror, worried about what everybody else is doing and we try to do things better — only we had no benchmarks,” said Keith Dahl, general manager for motorsports and asset management for Toyota Motor Sales, USA.

Chevrolet filled its space mostly with cars, even bringing in a refurbished 1970 Camaro and a 1971 Corvette. But since seeing Toyota’s injector, the American automaker decided to add a surprise addition that will be unveiled Thursday.

The center injector remains without a sponsor. Some believe Daytona will give naming rights to NASCAR’s next primary sponsor, which will replace Sprint at the end of this season. Chitwood insisted that’s not the case.

Nonetheless, Daytona’s transformation is sure to trickle down to other tracks. Lesa France Kennedy, CEO and vice chairperson of the ISC’s board of directors, said recently that Richmond International Raceway and Phoenix International Raceway would be next to get overhauled.

It’s doubtful those tracks would get the same redevelopment that Daytona did — the kind that needed to take into account the Earth’s curve — but given how everyone has responded to Daytona’s improvements, there’s no telling where it ends.

“After 50 years, Daytona deserved this re-imagining,” Chitwood said. “We all want to have the brightest and the shiniest, with all the bells and whistles. Now, when fans drive down International Speedway Boulevard, I want them to catch their breath and say, ‘I get why people are all worked up about Daytona and what this place means.'”

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