Does the sound of roaring thunder zooming mercilessly along steep banks rocket your adrenaline to the stratosphere? Do you prefer the smell of burning rubber to sizzling bacon? Congratulations, gearhead! You’re amongst millions of die-hard NASCAR race fans who share that insatiable lust for speed.
There’s nothing that compares to feeling the thunder of a DAYTONA 500 race live from the stands, sharing the enthusiasm with over 100,000 zealous fans at NASCAR’s most prestigious event. The noise, and the smell — yes, the smell — of speed are only fully appreciated from the seats at stock car racing’s spiritual home.
NASCAR was born here in Daytona Beach, at a rooftop bar just a few blocks from the sandy beach where racers first assembled. Nowadays, world-class Daytona International Speedway, heralded as “the prettiest speedway in the world,” attracts millions of car-racing enthusiasts — including presidents, celebrities, and racing fans just like you!
Ready to make your heart-stopping dreams a reality? Read on, and let’s head to the races!
I was kindly hosted by the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, but all opinions are my own.
Experience Daytona International Speedway
Let’s go straight for the gusto. This is where it all happens: the speed, the noise…the passion. Here, speed is king, and noise is a welcome by-product. The louder, the better. Adrenaline surges as drivers whiz past the rumbling aluminum stands at speeds of over 200 mph. It’s an exhilarating, thrilling experience, even for those who aren’t fans yet.
All roads in town lead to Daytona International Speedway. In fact, it’s on International Speedway Boulevard (the same road as Daytona Beach International Airport) — so it’s impossible to miss. The stadium’s 101,500 seats rise triumphantly skyward, guiding fans toward its 2.5-mile landmark track.
If you’re not able to make it to one of the Speedway’s big events, consider the next best thing: a guided, 90-minute, behind-the-scenes tour of racing’s mecca.
The tram tour rambles down Pit Road, circling Lake Lloyd (where famous drivers are often seen casting a fishing line!) as you soar along the track’s infield at a whopping speed of 15 mph. During stops, guests climb the 31-degree high bank at Turn 3 — high enough to allow cars to reach incredibly high speeds without — hopefully! — flipping over. (Sadly, this bend claimed the life of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt.)
Accessibility: The stadium is very ADA-accessible, with 40 escalators, 17 elevators, and plenty of wheelchair-accessible seats and bathroom facilities, but these banks may seem like Everest even for those without mobility challenges!
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to bring a Sharpie, since visitors are encouraged to scribble their John Hancocks on the Start/Finish line. Some cheeky messages read, “Slow down!” and “You’re going too fast!” (Sorry to burst your bubble, but the line’s repainted every day!)
Participants also venture through NASCAR garages and ascend the spectator stands while learning about the history of the Speedway — from its $2.5 million inception in 1957 to its mind-blowing, $400 million makeover in 2016.
The highlight of the tour is undeniably the opportunity to walk Victory Lane — where each winner celebrates his victory. For fans, it’s a surreal experience following in the footsteps of racing legends.
Tour Upgrade Options
VIP Tours: 2.5-hour VIP Tours (in comfortable buses) are available. These include a visit to the NASCAR Archives and Research Center and Houston Lawing Press Box. Offered Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1 p.m.; advance booking is recommended.
Race Car Ride-Along: For the ultimate thrill-seeking Daytona experience, don’t miss the chance to book a race car ride-along, or, better yet, race around the track yourself until the checkered flag drops!
Pro Tip: Don’t dodge the ticket counter photo booth! All tour tickets include four free digital photos of your experience (although they try to upsell). Sure, they’re photoshopped using a somewhat tacky green-screen background, but it’s a fun memory regardless!
How To Get DAYTONA 500 Tickets
If you’re anxious to join the 2 million pumped-up fans who converge here for the DAYTONA 500 each February, you had best plan early. Tickets routinely sell out a month in advance, hotels even sooner. The best way to secure tickets is by calling 1-800-PITSHOP or going to the official DAYTONA 500 event page.
The 300 or 400 levels provide better views of the track than lower levels. If it’s last minute and the race is sold out, try secondary sellers like SeatGeek.
Pro Tip: Upgrade your experience by purchasing Fan Zone passes. These pre-race passes admit you to the Fan Zone area in the infield as well as the pre-race concert.
Other Daytona International Speedway Races
If you’re too late or too broke to score tickets for the big race, or if huge crowds dissuade you, consider other popular races hosted at Daytona. The Bluegreen Vacations Duel 150 qualifying races are held the Thursday before the 500. You’ll get two 150-mile races, featuring every 500 entrant, racing under the lights of Daytona. Night races in August are also very popular and far less congested. The Rolex 24 in January is another consummate fan favorite!
The Motorsports Hall Of Fame Of America
All Speedway tours include admission to the on-site Hall of Fame, home to every form of racing vehicle — stock cars, sports cars, trucks, motorcycles, powerboats, and planes! The building’s packed with tons of racing memorabilia and cup-winning cars — including Richard Petty’s 1972 NASCAR champion STP Charger. You’ll also get an up-close look at the reigning DAYTONA 500 Champion Car — in the same condition it left the track! With photo-ops galore, and plenty of knowledgeable volunteers, you’ll easily spend a couple of hours here!
Pro Tip: Don’t miss the commemorative statues of NASCAR founder, Bill France Sr., his wife and son, and race champ Dale Earnhardt, outside the building or the Champion’s Walk of Fame — featuring handprints, footprints, and cement autographs of past 500 winners. There’s also a wooden bench commemorating racing icon Richard Petty’s, 80th birthday.
Off The Track: NASCAR Experiences Around Daytona
Want to see — or even stay — where it all began? Then race over to the Streamline Hotel (roughly 10 minutes east). It was at the rooftop bar of this stylish Art Deco boutique hotel, a hangout of celebrities, race car drivers, and gangsters, that Bill France Sr. inked papers creating NASCAR.
The rooftop’s captivating 360-degree view of Daytona Beach stretches from the shores of the Atlantic, where the earliest races were held, to the towering stands of the city’s modern Speedway. Newspaper clippings and black-and-white framed photos cover the walls of the hotel’s NASCAR-themed lobby and rooftop bar, commemorating its historical significance. Ask to see their “Al Capone” safe door for another fun surprise!
Pro Tip: Many NASCAR-related meetings and events are still held here, so keep a sharp eye for visiting drivers and dignitaries! Bar opening hours vary, so call ahead.
Where To Eat
Racing’s North Turn
Long before cars raced around paved oval tracks of the Speedway, tires spun along Daytona’s sandy beach. From 1936 to 1958, cars thrilled and spilled along a 4.1-mile beach road course. They’d exit the beach, turning onto a stretch of the A1A at Ponce Inlet — the current site of Racing’s North Turn, a beachfront restaurant and bar popular with the racing crowd — and for good reason. Besides offering great food with an even better view, the NASCAR-themed décor and wall coverings pay tribute to the location’s unique history. Don’t miss it!
Be sure to hit up Brickyard Lounge, a classic American-style diner operated by Renny, a racing enthusiast who styled his digs to celebrate his passion. This hidden gem whips up the best sandwiches and burgers in town. It’s a pit stop you shouldn’t miss!
Pro Tip: Order their ribeye steak sandwich or regret it forever!
4 Rivers Smokehouse
Order the Burnt Ends (chopped brisket and pork) with three country sides and choice of bread at 4 Rivers Smokehouse, across from the Speedway, and eat like a champion. This family-owned barbecue emporium is committed to helping communities through the 4R Foundation and its 4Roots sustainable food initiatives. It’s a win-win!
Ormond Garage, a racing-themed craft brewery and eatery, pays tribute to the legendary building of the same name, that, in the days of yesteryear, housed race cars and their drivers and mechanics. Sadly, the original building burned down in 1976; there’s a historical marker at its former site on East Granada Boulevard, where a SunTrust bank now stands.
The Ormond Beach community, just north of Daytona Beach, is known as the “birthplace of speed” and was a gathering point for auto inventors and drivers in the early 1900s.
Pro Tip: When you visit the brewery, be sure to check out the cool mural out back!
Rose Villa Southern Table
Finally, for a truly nostalgic dining experience, head to Rose Villa Southern Table. This cranberry-and-apple-green building, originally home to a circa 1901 hotel (complete with Victorian wallpaper), invokes the charm of a bygone era.
Pro Tips: Order their Bourbon BBQ Pork Chop with goat cheese grits and thank me later. Don’t miss their vintage Bourbon Bar on the second floor, either!
Where To Stay
If you don’t opt for a room at the Streamline, these other Daytona Beach options deserve your consideration.
THE DAYTONA (Autograph Collection), a 144-room luxury hotel, sits conveniently across from the Speedway at ONE DAYTONA (a shopping and dining complex). Racing-themed murals, race cars, and vintage gasoline pumps adorn their lobby as well as the adjacent Blue Flame lounge.
Max Beach Resort
Save some money without sacrificing luxury by driving 10 minutes to Max Beach Resort, a brand-new hotel, originally designed as condos, at Daytona Beach Shores. Large suites offer full kitchens and spectacular views. Enjoy oceanfront dining, too!