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.

For more information, checkout DaytonaRising and RedevelopDaytona.

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”