Joie Chitwood revs up Daytona Rising

How do you give an American icon an overhaul? That’s the $400 million question that faced executives of the famed Daytona International Speedway in a move that’s all about evolving the fan experience. The multi-year project, dubbed Daytona Rising, will see the venue feature “approximately 101,000 permanent, wider and more comfortable seats, twice as many restrooms and three times as many concession stands. In addition, the Speedway will feature over 60 luxury suites with track side views and a completely revamped hospitality experience for corporate guests.” One key feature will include massive social areas, or “neighborhoods,” along the frontstretch with the facelift set to be completed in time for the 2016 season.

Cynopsis Sports spoke with Joie Chitwood, President of Daytona International Speedway, about the project at its halfway point, how the venue is looking to transform the event experience for fans, how tech and social media are impacting plans and what advertisers can expect.

Chitwood on the state of the track: It is the most impressive thing when you take a racetrack and turn it into a motorsports stadium. That’s the goal and I think we are living up to that goal, it’s really impressive so far. For us it really started with some basics, a facility audit and looking at some of the metrics you see nowdays, in terms of point-of-sale per guest, pictures per guest, seats and all those elements. Once we did that audit, we were able to see what Daytona was lacking that we see in newer stadiums.

When you see what Daytona means to our sport, with the 500, and being the world’s center of racing, we saw the things that we needed to do better. So we went down the path of looking at what we could fix and improve and realized that there might be an opportunity to do something different. Instead of fixing this seat and adding a bolt to an escalator, we saw that we could take a different approach and examine what it would be like to rebuild Daytona.

On updating an icon: We are creating these things that you see at other venues such as: vertical transportation; concourses; social interaction, zones and neighborhoods; and really provide some amenities that we hadn’t been offering. We’ve got 50-year old seats out there. We needed to approach it like Big Bill approached it back in the late 50s and that is to do something that no one else has ever done. I’m happy to say we’ve got the organization convinced, we talked to the board of directors and everybody went all in.

On the importance of fan experience: At the end of the day, it is all about the fan experience. The investment to come to the Daytona 500 is a lot different than going to a professional sport in your hometown. 60% of our crowd comes from outside the state of Florida. They stay an average of five nights so it is an investment to attend. We want to make sure that their investment is worth their while because it is much easier to sit at home on your coach than watch the great FOX broadcast on TV. We’ve got to make sure this property entices you to come to a great racing event and that was one of the goals, offering all of those amenities so fans can enjoy it in a way that they hadn’t before.

On this February’s Daytona 500: we’re going to have 40,000 new seats ready for the 2015 racing season. That means two injectors will also be open. Injectors are going to load the new seats into the concourse. The escalators and elevators will be available, along with other new elements. That will be in addition to the 60,000 historic seats that will be available for use. So we will have a hybrid property next year. We’ve got old and new at the same time and I think the fans who sit in the 40,000 seats are going to be blown away. It is like their sneak preview of what it will be like when everything is done.

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