News & Media

Chitwood: Daytona ready for the spotlight

February 13, 2011, Joie Chitwood III, President, Daytona International Speedway,

The eyes of the entire sports world are on Daytona Beach, Fla., and the Daytona International Speedway for the much-anticipated start to the 2011 NASCAR season. We are thrilled and eager for the moment as we usher in a new era at Daytona.

Back in July, when we started removing the first light and fence posts to begin our extensive repave project, Feb. 20, 2011, seemed like an eternity away. But as the saying goes -- time flies when you're having fun!

Great expectations

Joie Chitwood is working to restore Daytona's reputation.

In five short months we completed the monumental task of repaving the 2.5-mile track, using 50,000 tons of asphalt to cover 1.4 million square feet. Almost immediately, the compliments started pouring in. Beginning in mid-December with the Goodyear tire test, driver after driver has praised the smoothness of the new racing surface, the ease of transition into and out of the turns, and the increased amount of room with which they can race. Pit road was widened by 12 feet, another feature that drivers touted as a significant improvement to the World Center of Racing.

For those fans that came out during the tests, some of whom got to camp for free in the infield during NASCAR's Preseason Thunder, it was obvious that we nailed it. Even though the drivers weren't racing, you could see the difference in their runs and could almost visualize the intensity of the drafting and three-wide drama that will take place on Feb. 20.

In late January came our first real test, the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Throughout practice and qualifying, teams repeatedly set track records. The surface proved to be fast -- very fast -- and it had a lot of grip. Once the race got under way, everyone's excitement grew with each lap. Twenty-three hours and 58 minutes later, the Rolex 24 at Daytona came down to a one-lap dash and a thrilling finish.

The 33rd Budweiser Shootout had thrilling racing highlighted by a record number of lead changes (28), high-speed drafting action and a dramatic finish. It's a small taste of what we can expect in the 53rd Daytona 500.

The teams are excited, sponsors are excited, we are excited and we hope all of our fans are excited, as well.

But if you're not convinced yet, here's a little food for thought. In 1959, Daytona International Speedway was just built and it hosted the very first Daytona 500 on a newly paved surface. A field of 59 stock cars took the green flag with a crowd of 41,000 on hand to witness a new chapter in American motorsports. The famous photo of the three-wide-finish is frozen in time. It took three days to confirm that Lee Petty did in fact win the first Daytona 500 by a margin of only 2 feet!

Fast forward to 1979, and the first live flag-to-flag broadcast of the Daytona 500. A top layer of asphalt was added to Daytona International Speedway in 1978 and this was the first Great American Race on the new surface. The final lap of this thriller featured a heated battle for the win between Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough, which ended with both cars wrecking in Turn 3. We've all seen the footage of what followed -- the Allison brothers exchanging a few choice words -- and punches -- with Cale, having to be separated by NASCAR officials.

On Feb. 20, 2011, we'll once again run the Daytona 500 on a brand-new racing surface. Who knows what's in store or what amazing event we'll witness? I don't know the answer but I do know that it's a race no one should miss. I hope to see you there!

Left, Lee Petty wins in a photo finish in 1959. Right, Cale Yarborough takes on the Allison brothers in 1979.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.