Monday, February 15, 2010

Daytona From the Cheap Seats

Leading up to the Daytona 500, fans heard lots of hype about reduced ticket prices. In an effort to ensure a sellout crowd, the Daytona International Speedway promoted the dickens out of their $55 superstretch tickets - the cheapest seats at the track.

A sucker for a good deal, I decided to snap up a couple of these cheap seats, just to see how the bargain basement experience compares to say, a much pricier spot on the finish line.

So Sunday morning, I headed to the Speedway at the crack of dawn armed with my cheap ticket, a warm jacket, and a list of budget-friendly things to do. I was determined to see how much bang I could get for my 55 bucks.

I paid nothing extra for the below activities. And I'm pleased to report that my experiment proves that if you plan ahead and have some patience, you can have a fantastic race experience without putting your engagement ring in hock.

Autographs at the Speed Stage - I hit the Speed TV stage early, well before the show's scheduled broadcast time of 9 a.m., and my early arrival paid off. The Speed staff hands out Home Depot hard hats and beads before the show. And before it went live, hosts Kenny Wallace and Kyle Petty walked down to the fans and signed autographs. Driver Paul Menard even stopped by. I hung around for the first live segment of the show and it was pretty entertaining - besides, where else could you see Wallace shake it like this?

Coca-Cola Track Walk - I had the best of intentions, but I didn't get to the Speedway early enough to register for the free Coca-Cola Track Walk. However, hundreds of other race fans did make it in time - and they were rewarded for their efforts. They got to see Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer and Dale Jarrett kick it all off by waving the green flag.

Jeff Gluck Tweetup - This may have been my favorite free activity of all. Current SB Nation blogger and bona fide Twitter celebrity @jeff_gluck is the originator of the race day tweetup - and the Daytona edition was the biggest yet. We met in front of the Daytona 500 Experience and were joined by Nationwide driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr., David Newton from, folks from Watkins Glen International Speedway and a host of other online personalities, media members and Tweeps. As a special bonus, Gluck handed out free swag. What's not to love?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. - I hightailed it from the Tweetup hoping to make it to the Turn 4 Chevy stage in time to see Jeff Burton talk to the crowd. Unfortunately, I missed Burton - but I did snag a pretty good vantage point from which to watch Dale Jr. talk to fans. The event was a Q&A session with a rep from Chevy - and it was lots of fun. Junior talked everything from racing strategy to what's on his iPod (country music) and he also revealed his plans for Whisky River (the Jacksonville location opens in April, and he'd like to open another location in Nashville).

Walking, Walking and Walking - The only people who get anywhere fast at Daytona International Speedway are the drivers on the track. It's wall-to-wall people and you've got to accept the fact that it's going to take a while to get where you want to go. While hiking from the Chevy Stage to the Turn 2 Grandstand, I was pretty glad I had missed Coca-Cola Track Walk registration - but the hike was a great way to warm up on a pretty chilly day.

Great view - I had never before watched a race from the backstretch, and I was thrilled with how well I could actually see the cars racing by. Since the superstretch is flat, you're treated to a terrific view of the cars coming off of Turn 1 driving into Turn 2 and racing down the straightaway. It's also a great place to be if you like watching wrecks firsthand. We saw our share.

Free advice - About midway through the first Potholegate, the more innovative fans in my vicinity began spouting off how they thought NASCAR should fix the "imperfection" on the track. Among the ideas I overheard? Georgia clay and sand. Quikrete. "Real" asphalt. Barricade tape and traffic cones. And this more laissez faire solution - "Just let 'em drive through it and let the chips fall where they may." Looks to me like NASCAR ended up using a combination of toothpaste and whiteout.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, there is so much to do in Daytona, not only on race day but from Wednesday on during Speed Week. When I used to work at the track I would get schedules from drivers websites and the Daytona paper and go to meet and greets all over town. All the guys from speed are great and usually more than willing to sign an autograph or just shoot the breeze when they can. People need to know there are things they can do at these venues that costs nothing. So get a ticket and go support NASCAR.

    The only vantage point I have never seen a race is from the backstretch. I have driven down the back stretch, but never watched a race. Haven't checked to see if they have tickets for the July race ,since they did not last year, but I think I would like to sit back there for a race next time I go. Thanks for peaking my interest.