Daytona Rising 'Ahead of Schedule'
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on December 3, 2013 | 10:31 P.M. EST
A group of Daytona International Speedway ticket holders recently got an up-close look at the track's new grandstand construction. (Photo: Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS - Lesa France Kennedy, CEO and Vice Chairperson of International Speedway Corp., said Tuesday that the renovation program to Daytona International Speedway is “slightly ahead of schedule’’ and that officials plan to again seek money from Florida to help with the program.
The $400 million Daytona Rising project, which will dramatically alter the track’s grandstands with new entranceways, additional restrooms and concessions stands, and wider seats, among other amenities, is scheduled to be completed in 2016.
The project is going on despite the Florida Legislature denying International Speedway Corp. about $70 million in sales tax rebates by not voting on the issue earlier this year. Kennedy said that officials will again lobby the legislature next year.
“We talk about the economic impact that we bring to the state, which is $1.6 billion annually, and we feel like other sports have enjoyed this in our state for years,’’ Kennedy told Motor Racing Network after speaking at the NASCAR Motorsports Marketing Forum at the Aria Resort and Casino. “We feel that we should enjoy the same. We feel our story is good. We feel like it’s a good time to partner with the state moving forward.’’
It worked this year for Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed legislation in May that will allow the track to receive low-interest loans from the state for up to $5 million a year for 20 years to complete capital improvement projects. In addition, the track would contribute $2 million a year during that time toward improvements.
“It was, in some ways, very motivating to see how in a state where people don’t like to spend taxpayer money, especially on private enterprise, there was so much good will for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,’’ said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., which oversees Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
While Daytona’s renovations continue, Kennedy said that International Speedway Corp. - which also owns Motor Racing Network - looked at purchasing Iowa Speedway before deciding not to pursue that opportunity.
“Iowa is a great speedway,’’ Kennedy said. “I think they have a really nice product there, the racetrack is great, there are a lot of nice things about it. Having said that, right now was not the time for ISC. We did take a look at it. We have so much on our plate, and, of course, with a $400-million project on our plate, as well as continuing to upgrade over time our other facilities, it didn’t make sense. If it had been at a different time, maybe, but not right now.’’
Instead, NASCAR purchased the track last week. Kennedy is vice chairwoman/executive vice president of NASCAR and said that move is a good one for the sport’s sanctioning body.
It’s the first oval NASCAR owns. NASCAR also owns Road Atlanta and the lease to Sebring International Raceway. Both tracks were acquired in the merger with the American LeMans Series last year.
“I think it was a different approach but when NASCAR looked at it, it made sense,’’ Kennedy said. “It is a little bit different (philosophy) from the past but we have to open up a little bit to different ideas.’’
The key for any track, Kennedy says, is to provide a “premium experience’’ for race fans. That’s the purpose of the Daytona renovations and for changes at other tracks.
The at-track experience is something Sam Flood, executive producer of NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network, says is important for the networks covering the sport.
“We need the core fan, the sport needs the core fan just at the racetrack alone,’’ said Flood, whose network will begin airing NASCAR races in 2015. “We need the stands full. We want to do what we can to make sure the fans at home know it’s pretty cool to be up in the seats. Once you go, you’re hooked. You’ve seen it, you’ve smelt it, you’ve felt it. So, let’s make sure we get people going back to the racetrack. Once you go to the racetrack, you’re going to watch these guys on television.’’