High steel rising at Daytona

A new grandstand toward Turn 1, set back significantly from the existing seating, towers 146 feet above ground level. (Photo: DIS)

A new grandstand toward Turn 1, set back significantly from the existing seating, towers 146 feet above ground level. (Photo: DIS)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — During a Thursday hard-hat tour of Daytona Rising, the massive long-term capital improvement project at Daytona International Speedway, reporters saw impressive evidence of progress made during the first six months of construction at the 2.5-mile speedway.

A new grandstand toward Turn 1, set back significantly from the existing seating, towers 146 feet above ground level. Speedway President Joie Chitwood III said the new grandstands along the frontstretch, once completed, would use one percent of the world’s existing supply of steel.

Construction will stop for racing activities in the coming weeks, and the track has already begun an extensive information campaign to help guide spectators through the construction areas to their seats.

“We’re building the property, but we’re also going into race-ready mode,” Chitwood said. “So you see us paving areas that weren’t paved before, clearing out the dirt and creating the walkways fans will use… A fan will go through a gate, go through a walkway and in essence be walking through the middle of a construction zone with steel on both sides.

“That’s all along the front of the property. We’ll be dealing with communications, staffing, technology to make sure our fans know what’s going to go on.”

Chitwood also showed reporters a major change in one of the crossover gates in the frontstretch fence designed to allow quicker movement between the infield grass, known colloquially as the “football field” and the grandstands.

Instead of a traditional gate in the fence, which requires a movable stairway, the new gate opens in trap door fashion with metal trap doors flush with the concrete base of the grandstand, and with the SAFER barrier and mesh on the frontstretch moving inward to create a ramp from the racing surface into the stands.

If the new concept does what Chitwood expects it to — moving spectators more quickly from the infield to the stands — Daytona will incorporate the new style of gate into all its crossovers, as will its sister speedway at Talladega.

“It’s as safe as what we have in place now, but what we like is the innovative side for the fans,” Chitwood said. “That’s what we’re working on. We’ve been working on this for a number of years but just couldn’t get a good design that made sense.

“We eliminate a staircase, a platform, and another staircase… Once you see that, you can understand how many parts we’ve removed from the process and why it should work much better.”

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