Daytona Beach never seems to have a quiet season, thanks in part to the Daytona International Speedway, the World Center of Racing. The Daytona 500 in February is one of the main events in this happening coastal city, with 43 of the best stock car drivers competing is NASCAR’s biggest and most prestigious event.
2011 sees the 53rd annual Daytona 500 race on Sunday February 20th, but if you are not in town for the event, don’t despair as there are at least three races each month including the Rolex 24, the Budweiser shootout for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the Coke Zero 400 and a host of motorcycle events.
The Daytona 500 is a 500-mile long race and currently Jamie Murray is the defending champion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. It is the first series race of the year and is regarded by many as the most important, nicknamed the “Superbowl of Stock Car Racing”. The events attracts 200,000 NASCAR fans to this opening event of the racing season. The winner is presented with the Harley J. Earl Trophy in Victory Lane and the winning car is displayed, in race track condition, for one year at the Daytona 500 Experience, a museum dedicated to this race, next to the speedway.
As well as visiting the Daytona 500 Experience, tours of the huge stadium are available daily around this landmark stadium on International Speedway Drive.
If you’re traveling to attend the Daytona 500, you’re likely flying into either Orlando International Airport (MCO) or Tampa International Airport (TPA). Many tourists and NASCAR fans will rent a car in Orlando and Tampa and drive to Daytona Beach, which is a relatively short driving distance away. Rental cars tend to sell out fast before and during the so-called “Race week”, so make sure to book your car rental many days in advance. We have an Orlando car rental store and a Tampa rental car facility where you can reserve a rental car to drive to Daytona!
History of Daytona 500 Racing
Daytona Beach has long been famous for its miles of firm sand, rolling surf and its love of supercharged speed. The earliest Daytona speedway races were run for almost 50 years on the packed white sand of the beach in a circuit which included part of the A1A! This practise came to an end in 1959 when the Daytona International Speedway was built nearby. Nowadays the Daytona 500 and other events draw huge crowds of spectators to the purpose-built speedway which covers 480 acres.
The first events were 200 miles of hard racing on the beach and road circuit. The race was increased to 500 miles in 1959, with the progression of faster, more reliable cars. The track is 2½ miles long and the Daytona 500 requires 200 laps, so there’s plenty of action during the race.
Tours of Daytona Speedway
Book the one hour all-access tour and go behind-the-scenes to see how these NASCAR events run so smoothly. Pop into the Drivers’ Meeting room, tour the NASCAR Spring cup Series garages, see the Victory Lane and venture into the press box, seven floors above the track itself. Tours are around $22 for adults.
The shorter and cheaper Speedway Tour lasts 30 minutes and visitors have access to walk the infield and see the NASCAR Nationwide Series garages. Travel along the famous pit road and learn how NASCAR’s top drivers prepare for the largest motorsports event on the racing calendar.
Fun activities in Daytona Beach
As well as visiting the Daytona International Speedway for a race or a guided tour, visitors can enjoy a host of other activities. Take a boat trip on the Halifax River to see dolphins and manatees or ride in a Daytona trolley bus in one of the amphibious vehicles which plunges into the river for a spell of sightseeing. Still on a racing theme, pay a visit to the Klassix Auto Attraction which features vintage cars and motorbikes further along International Speedway Blvd. The Museum of Photography and the Ormond Memorial Art Museum are within easy reach.
Further afield, to the north of Daytona is the historic city of St Augustine with its restored schoolhouse and citadel, or head south an hour’s drive to the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral.