Daytona International Speedway to get major facelift, eliminate 46,000 seats

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Big changes are on the way for NASCAR’s most famous racetrack, Daytona International Speedway, with the most significant facelift since the track opened 54 years ago in 1959.

Home of the season-opening Daytona 500 and the early July Coke Zero 400, the track will undergo a multi-phase update that will break ground July 5, the day before this year’s Coke Zero 400. With a price tag estimated to be up to $400 million, construction will be completed in segments and is due for final completion in January 2016.

The majority of change will come on the frontstretch, which measures nearly one-mile in length.

All seats will be replaced with wider and more comfortable counterparts. There will also be 11 “neighborhoods” installed for fans to still be able to see the action while socializing with other fans — much like overlook areas typically seen at horse racing tracks. Each “neighborhood” will measure about the length of a football field, capped off by the “World Center of Racing” area that will be somewhat of an open-air museum touting the history of the speedway and its most memorable moments.

Plans call for construction of 53 suites. New entrances, additional restrooms and concession areas, escalators and elevators are also part of the improvement program.

But there will be a significant price to pay: DIS will see its current capacity of 147,000 shrink by more than 30 percent to about 101,000 seats, with plans calling for the elimination of all grandstand seating on the backstretch area. However, there are additional plans to bring seating back to 125,000 if future economic conditions and fan demand warrant it.

At its zenith, DIS once had a capacity of 162,000.

“The decision was made with strong consideration of the current macroeconomic condition and a clear view for our long-term growth,” Lisa France Kennedy, CEO of International Speedway Corp., which owns DIS, said in a statement. “We are truly creating history with this unprecedented endeavor.”

Even though capacity will be dramatically decreased, ISC and track officials insist they won’t make up for lost revenue from the eliminated seats with higher ticket prices.

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Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”