The Daytona 500 Experience is a ticket to interactive racing fun for Sunshine State visitors.*
The Daytona 500 Experience
Beckons Racing Enthusiasts
If NASCAR is a passion, head for The Daytona 500 Experience in Daytona Beach, FL.
If it’s not -- but you have an inquisitive manner and enjoy sports -- go anyway. It’s a thrilling and fun way to spend a half-day.
Since its opening in July 1996, the Daytona 500 Experience – previously known as Daytona USA --- has celebrated the racing accomplishments of men and women who have competed in Daytona Beach since the early 1900s.
Located at the Daytona International Speedway, the 50,000-square-foot Daytona 500 Experience not only showcases simulators, historic racing cars, memorabilia, movies and more.
It also gives you an up-close tour of the famed tri-oval track.
A statue outside the attraction (see photo above*) poignantly pays tribute to Dale Earnhardt, winner of the 1998 Daytona 500; sadly he died in an an accident during the 2001 Daytona 500.
Recently, my cousin Larry McHenry, a NASCAR fan visiting from Pennsylvania, along with my mother and I, both Floridians, set off in search of adventure and racing history at the Daytona 500 Experience.
Let's explore what you might see and do if you head to this speed attraction.
Touring the Tri-Oval
Let's get right into the good stuff. Admission to the Daytona 500 experience includes a 30-minute guided tour of the Speedway (my cousin Larry is shown at the Victory Lane stop above and below*).
You'll board and open-air tram and receive a 30-minute narrated tour as you motor along the speedway's garage area, pit road and those famed 31-degree high banks.
It's amazing to see the roadway sloping up away from you! (See photo at left.*)
The tour also makes stops at Pit Road and Gatorade Victory Lane (see photo at left*), track activities permitting.
During big events, like the Daytona 500 week, the tram tour may not be offered.
Racing into History
Entering the Daytona 500 Experience building, you’ll be greeted by a cornucopia of bright colors, lighting, sounds and racecars. But the experience also delivers a sense of history.
The Goodyear Heritage of Daytona "history walk" takes guests back through time, allowing them the opportunity to see how Daytona came to be the "World Center of Racing."
For example, you’ll view a replica of "Stanley Steamer," a steam-powered race vehicle which set a World Land Speed Record in 1906 by running a mile in 28.15 seconds with driver Fred Marriott at the wheel. The Stanley Steamer is on loan from the City of Ormond Beach and the Museum of Speed.
As the era of beach time trials came to a close, William H.G. "Big Bill" France ushered in the era of stock car racing on the white sands of Daytona Beach.
Featured in the history walk is a recreation of Bill France's service station. That thriving business in Daytona Beach gave him time to race in and promote what would ultimately become NASCAR -- the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.
A section of asphalt from Highway AIA, which was used for racing on the half-beach, half-road racing circuit, had been placed near a replica of the flagstand that served as the start/finish line of the famous race course.
Entering the superspeedway era exhibits, you’ll learn about Bill France’s dream for the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway. (A photo of the speedway after a green flag start of the Daytona 500 is shown above.*)
Photos document the construction of this engineering marvel. It features 40-foot wide, 31-degree banked turns, a unique tri-oval track design and even the 44-acre Lake Lloyd in the infield.
One big fan favorite in this area is the the winning stock car from the 1979 Daytona 500 -- Richard Petty's famous #43 Oldsmobile.
Also on the display are trophies from several decades of racing at Daytona. You’ll view the Marchall Teague Perpetual Memorial Trophy for winners of the Pepsi 400.
Also on display is the Paul Whiteman Trophy, first awarded to winners of the NASCAR Grand National Division races on Daytona Beach.
Visitors to the Daytona 500 Experience can also get a close-up look at what constitutes a 31-degree banked turn.
(see photo at left with race cars hugging the turns.*)
Under the Hood & Into the Pits
Ever wondered what goes into a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup stock car? See for yourself as the Dupont Technology of Speed (shown above*) takes you under the sheet metal.
You’ll view the inner workings of one of Hendrick Motorsports' NEXTEL Cup championship-winning Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlos.
Watch as the 3,400-lb. racing machine expands to reveal the roll cage, chassis and engine - everything that makes these cars the stars of the racing world
Or, you might head for the Chevy 16-second Pit Stop Challenge, offered at scheduled times throughout the day.
This hands-on activity (shown at right*) puts you into the pits as a crew member on the No. 21 Ricky Rudd Motorcraft Ford.
You'll grab an air gun, strap on some gloves, and try to beat the time of a real pit crew.
It's a lightning fast stop for gas and tires!
The Car of Tomorrow
Racing fans can see the latest, next-generation race car at a Car of Tomorrow exhibit. You'll view a completed version of Jeff Gordon's No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Chevrolet.
It features the Car of Tomorrow body design and features, highlighted by the rear wing.
This design has been in development for more than five years by NASCAR's Research and Development Center.
The goal is to create a vehicle that's safer, more competitive and cheaper for the race teams.
Simulators and Interactive Fun
Visitors of Daytona 500 Experience will have a chance to taste the excitement of racing at Daytona International Speedway in the attraction's newest draw -- the ARCA RE/MAX Series racecar simulator.
Added in summer 2008, this attraction (shown above*) features four racing cockpits with 42 Inch LCD screens and professional simulation controls. Each is powered by ARCA SIM Racing 08 software.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. helped to personally develop the experience with the game's creators.
So you'll experience the bumps, banking and turns of the track compliments of Earnhardt. (At right, an enthusiastic visitor enjoys the experience.*)
In the Virtual Spotter's Stand, visitors can experience the full immersion of spotter-to-driver communications, a critical and vital part of stock car racing.
On July 4, 2001, The Daytona 500 Experience expanded with a 10,000-square foot addition that included Daytona Dream Laps, an IWERKS motion simulator ride based on the Daytona 500. The ride seats 32 guests for a full-range motion experience.
Another popular simulator experience is Acceleration Alley. (See the entry desk at left.*)
Here fans can drive the Daytona high banks for themselves in an 80% scale replica of a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup car.
In addition, The Daytona 500 Experience offers a Coca-Cola IMAX Theatre.
Renovations in 2004 turned this theater into one of only four 3D IMAX theaters in Florida.
Inside the Coca-Cola IMAX Theatre, guests view "NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience" and the award-winning "Daytona 500: The Movie.”
(The theater entrance is shown at left, and the interior of the theater packed with visitors is shown above.*)
You don’t have to attend a race at Daytona International Speedway to get the thrill of victory. Just view the movie, and then exit the theater into Gatorade Victory Lane.
Here is where you’ll discover the current Daytona 500 winning car in the exact condition it was when it crossed the finish line to take the checkered flag.
Currently on display is the NO.12 Alltel Dodge driven by Ryan Newman. (Above, Newman and his winning car are shown inside the attraction at Gatorade Victory Lane.*)
Newman won the 50th annual Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008.
Ride Along or Drive the Track!
Die-hard race fans might check out the Richard Petty Driving Experience, which isn't included within the admission to the Daytona 500 Experience.
Reservations are highly recommended, depending on what option you select. You might ride along with a professional driver, or take the wheel yourself for up to 24 laps. For the complete listing, check out this page of The Daytona 500 Experience.
Walk of Fame
Guests at the Daytona 500 experience may now mill around outside the facility gazing down at a Champions Walk of Fame.
It consists of three-foot square cement blocks that commemorate the winning drivers from NASCAR's signature event, the Daytona 500.
Winning drivers of the Daytona 500 since 1996, the first year of operation for the Daytona 500 Experience, have their hand print, right foot print and signature immortalized.
(In the photo at right, Ryan Newman, the 2008 Daytona 500 winner, adds his block to the walk.*)
You'll also see blocks outside for these Daytona 500 champions: Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett, Ward Burton and Michael Waltrip and Kevin Harvick.
A special plaque in the Champions Walk of Fame honors the late Dale Earnhardt and his 1998 Daytona 500 victory.
Editor's Note: Drivers who won prior to 1996 also have their footprints immortalized inside the attraction.
(At left, Earnhardt is remembered in a statue located at the front of The Daytona 500 Experience.*)
If You Go
Located at 1801 W. International Speedway Blvd. in Daytona Beach, FL, the Daytona 500 Experience is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day).
During peak seasons and major event times, it offers extended hours so call 386-681-6800 for updated hours of operation.
Regular admission includes a tram tour of the Speedway and entry to the Daytona 500 Experience. Of course, at times, the tram tour is not operated on the tour - such as during major race weeks.
Regular admission is $24 plus tax for adults and $19 for seniors and kids 6-12. Kids 5 and under are admitted free.
Separately, a VIP Hot Pass Tour (priced at $50 for adults) departs at noon daily. It includes a two-to-three hour personal track tour aboard a Speedway motorcoach, taking visitors to behind-the-scenes venues including the media center and the Daytona 500 Club.
The VIP Hot Pass also includes lunch at the Budweiser Bistro in the Sprint Fanzone; discounts on merchandise from the Pit Shop, a logo and clothing shop located just outside the attraction; and two Acceleration Alley ride vouchers.
Reservations are not always required, but we highly recommend them for VIP Hot Pass tours. For more information, call 386-681-6530 or visit www.daytona500experience.com. That site also provides details on partner hotels in the area as well as how to order race tickets.
Whenever you visit and which experiences at The Daytona 500 Experience you select, one thing is certain. You'll learn a lot more about speed and enjoy a half-day or full-day of racing fun! Vrrrooooommm...
*Photos of Larry McHenry and the speedway tram tour are by Susan J. Young. All other photos are used courtesy of the Daytona International Speedway. Photos are owned and copyrighted by these entities. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thanks