Safety The Greatest Of Fan ‘Amenities’

CHARLOTTE, NC (June 24, 2013) – Last week’s announcement that the front stretch grandstand at Daytona International Speedway would undergo a complete renovation was packed with information about improved fan experience.

Wider seats, escalators, elevators and ‘social neighborhood’ amenities were all trumpeted as part of the ‘Daytona Rising: Reimagining an American Icon’ project that is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2016 Daytona 500.

Curiously, one fan ‘amenity’ that wasn’t prominently mentioned in the announcement of the $400 million Daytona renovation by International Speedway Corporation – the owner of DIS – was increased fan safety.

While artist renderings of the project are indeed impressive, the first thing that jumped out at me was the proximity of the racetrack to the new grandstand structure. If the drawings are correct, it appears as though the new seats won’t be much farther from the racing surface than the current seats are. Given the incident at the conclusion of this year’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race – where nearly 30 fans were injured when debris from the wild crash flew into the seats closest to the track – you would think a wider, more expansive area between the grandstand and the track would be part of the plan.

According to the drawings, this isn’t the case.

In my estimation, if any one part of the Daytona facility needed to be addressed as part of the renovation, it was this area. Reflecting it’s original 1950’s design, seats along the Daytona front stretch are less than 20 feet from the racing surface in some places. This area – also used by fans as access to the lower seats in the grandstand – is clearly in harm’s way.

The new design appears to now restrict fans from this causeway adjacent to the racing surface. But if the new seats in the lower grandstand are as close to the track as pictured, then little has been done to increase safety for individuals sitting in those seats.

While I applaud almost all of the new designs, the Daytona reimaging plan does not appear to include a setback of the current grandstand footprint and the creation of – for lack of a better term – a ‘Safer Barrier’ for the fans.

The expectation of a safe experience is by far the greatest of all fan ‘amenities.’ If the new Daytona plan doesn’t account for a wider safety zone between the fans and the racetrack, then more escalators, bathrooms, concession stands and more comfortable seats are little more than window dressing.

More Daytona

In case you missed the announcement, here are some additional details about the new Daytona grandstand reimaging project.

This will be the third major renovation of the Daytona ‘World Center of Speed’ facility in the last decade. In 2005, the track’s infield was completely rebuilt with new competitor garages, media facilities and a ‘Fan Zone.’ Additionally, the 2.5-mile oval track surface was completely repaved in 2010.

Construction on the new grandstand project will begin immediately after the completion of Coke Zero 400 weekend this July and continue through events at Daytona in 2014 and 2015.

Access to the grandstand will be through a series of gates that ISC is calling ‘injectors.’ Each injector will lead to an open space – or one of 11 social neighborhoods. The neighborhoods will measure the size of a football field, each having a view of the track and video screens throughout.

The new Daytona grandstand will feature 53 suites and 40 escalators along with all new and increased numbers of bathroom and concession facilities.

While the seats will be wider and more comfortable, there will be fewer of them. Reflecting a trend in falling attendance at its events and at auto racing events as a whole, Daytona will completely eliminate the 45,000-seat back straight – or ‘Superstretch’ – grandstand. Seats in this area have in general gone unsold in recent years as evidenced by the fact it won’t even be open for the upcoming NASCAR Spring Cup event in July.

Seating at the track, which at one time was as high as 168,000 and is now at 147,000, will be approximately 101,000 when the new reimaging project is completed.

The renovation will be completed without the aid of public funds. ISC will foot the bill itself after unsuccessfully lobbying the state of Florida to enter into a public/private partnership on the project. That partnership would have included a tax bill to assist with state funding, but the state legislature chose not to bring the issue to a vote prior to closing its most recent session in May.

That decision means ISC will dip into the $600 million capital expenditure budget it had earmarked for the five year period from 2013 to 2017 – a budget that would cover improvements to all 12 ISC owned tracks during that time – not just Daytona.

ISC officials hope the new Daytona reimaging will make the facility more universal allowing it to also host a wide variety of events such as music festivals and soccer tournaments,

Last Call

You always like to see a buddy make good, and so here’s a Close Finishes shout out to Mike Herman, Jr.

‘Herm’ is the spotter for Martin Truex, Jr., the winner of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Infenion Speedway in Sonoma, CA. A racing lifer and solid short-track racer in his own right, Herman seamlessly moved to the spotter’s stand in recent years and has worked his way up to being one of the best – and more well liked and respected – spotters in the business.

In a world where the media shines the spotlight on just about everyone’s contribution to a team’s success, spotters have remained virtually anonymous to fans thanks to a curious lack of media attention.

That said, here’s a salute to all the spotters today for their contributions to their team’s efforts.

Way to go Herm.

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