The Traveling Steve's

Touring the Daytona 500 International Speedway!

Steve (DOS) and I are staying at the Hyatt Place in Daytona Beach Shores this week for a 5 day stay-cation. We’ve stayed here a couple times this year already, and enjoy it each time. It’s like our condo on the beach, without having to buy and maintain an oceanfront property. We like going from Sunday thru Friday, thus avoiding the much busier (and pricier) weekend crowds and hotel rates.

The Hyatt Place and other oceanfront hotels in the area are slowly making progress repairing their beachfront walls and outdoor pool and spa areas which were in many cases completely destroyed by the two hurricanes from last Fall season. I posted some photos recently of the Hyatt’s former pool area, but for comparison here is a photo from January, and now an updated photo from this week in mid-March.

Pool area at the Hyatt Place as seen from our January 2023 stay; total devastation from the 2 Fall Hurricanes in 2022.
Hyatt Place pool area as seen from our current stay in mid-March 2023. Most of the pool debris has been cleared away.

There’s still no pool at the Hyatt, but just getting the old pool and jacuzzi removed is a major accomplishment. It will be obviously be some time before they are finished with the pool work at the Hyatt Place, but fortunately we didn’t use the hotel pool there anyway, as we have a pool at home. There’s also an unofficial pathway to get to the beach next to the parking lot at the hotel, although you have to be careful walking thru the debris field. Before you had to walk a few minutes on the street sidewalk down to the public beach ramp, so now this is much closer and more convenient.

The weather this week started out chilly and cool on Sunday, and has been warming up a bit each day this week. When we checked in Sunday the temperature was in the mid 50’s and very windy, which is unseasonably cool for mid-March, and too cool and windy to walk on the beach. (I know us Floridian wimps! LOL!)

We did plan a couple activities for the week as alternative “beach days”, and on Monday went to the Tangier Mall, a nice complex of stores and restaurants, some would call an outlet mall, but I don’t think it calls itself that anymore, and the prices sure don’t suggest “outlet mall” prices. It’s a great place to walk around as there are nicely landscaped grounds, and all stores are entered from the outdoor sidewalk areas. The Tangier Mall has designated walking and directional signs indicating how far you have walked in fractions of a mile; great for some exercise, and even some water fountains if you want to cool off!

Steve (DOS) and I did buy a couple shirts at the Polo Store, before heading to lunch.

And for Lunch, I actually had pizza, for the first time since I was in Seattle last September – November following my open heart surgery. We went to Blaze Pizza Restaurant were we’ve been to on previous visits a couple years ago to Tangier Mall. Blaze Pizza specializes in made-to-order 12 inch personal and thin crust pizza with the toppings you designate, and then cook for you while you wait at your table.

As the weather was warming up, DOS and I sat outside and had our lunch. I have to be very careful with my sodium intake, and pizza is a huge splurge, but as they make thin pizzas with fresh and quality ingredients, with reasonable quantity sizes, I did fine. We even checked the nutrition info on their site, and while the sodium levels were much more than I’m used too, they weren’t terrible as I would have less sodium with dinner. Moderation is the key, and with the diuretics I’m on now, it really does help keep the sodium down. Anyway, the pizza was delicious!

Now onto the Daytona 500 Speedway tour! Today (Tuesday) the weather started off in the low 60’s (F) but quickly warmed up to the low 70s later in the day. DOS and I had tour reservations at the Daytona Speedway for 11am, and arrived a half hour early or so at the gigantic raceway complex. We took the standard hour tour for $25, which was an amazing value, and totally exceeded our expectations! There is a VIP tour offered for $55 and lasts two and a half hours, but it was sold out this week so we did the standard tour which was more than enough to see, and includes a self-guided museum tour at the end of the tram tour.

While we waited for the tour to start (you ride around in a tram as the complex goes for miles), we went to the gift shop and I got a 75th anniversary Nascar hat, that was a limited edition with the sequence number actually stitched in the hat. I chose 195 as it reminded me of Interstate I-95 which runs along the east coast thru Daytona. I love the blue hat, and it went great with the blue shirt I was wearing!

After touring the massive gift shop, we got our photos taken in front of the green screen, which would superimpose our photos on different scenes, and we would later buy the photos at the end of the tour. While waiting for the tour to start, we looked at a few of the exhibits in the lobby, amazed by the size of the tires on the race cars, not to mention the tight quarters inside the car itself! You can even make reservations to actually drive one of the race cars, or do a ride-along with a driver for a hefty fee, but we passed on these options obviously! I’m not sure my heart would keep up with me at 180 miles per hour!

We then lined up for the tram about 15 minutes early, which was good as we got the seats we wanted on the last row of the two car tram.

The tram held perhaps ? 50 people on our tour, and seats 4 people across, similar to the trams at Universal Studios. DOS and I liked the back seat as could see out both sides, plus turn around and see the back view unimpeded with other passengers.

The Daytona 500 Speedway Tour itself was OUTSTANDING! Even if you are not into Nascar racing, it is really a fascinating being the scenes look at the various areas of the raceway, stands, pitstop areas, the track itself with the immense 35 degree turning banks etc.

The steep banks are 31 degrees and can have four cars zooming by on them simultaneously!

There is also a fantastic self-guided racing museum tour at the end of the tour which is filled with classic automobiles, memorabilia, as well as the actual race car of this year’s Daytona 500 winner.

Our driver and tour guide for the tour, Jeff, was terrific and provided a lot of insight into the tour that really made it so interesting. Jeff said there are over 200 races a year (some private, such as the Ferrari Club, as well as the big ones; i.e. the Daytona 500, Pepsi 400 etc), as well as the race car driving experience where you can actually ride with a driver in an actual race car at 185 miles an hour, for an additional charge. Because the track is used so frequently, we were actually lucky to be able to go out onto the track today as there were no races being held today.

I was worried at first I wouldn’t be able to do some strenuous walking, but this was not an issue at all, as the narrated tour itself was done while riding the tram, and there were several stops along the tour where you could get out and take photos, including the Grandstand area, the immense banking track section, Victory Lane, and going up thru the seating area itself.

I’ve only been to one race at the Daytona 500, and that was in 1999, shortly after I moved to the Orlando area, and Bellsouth (our work vendor at the time) had a race car and provided myself and a few others tickets and chartered bus transportation from Orlando to the Daytona 500 Speedway. I remember the bus met at the office around 6am, and even then it was more or less bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way to Daytona! On a major race such as the Daytona 500, there can be over 180,000 people attending! I always said if I ever attended that again, I would get a hotel down there by the raceway, (which there are several), but then again they book up fast a year out.

Ironically there is very little parking at the Daytona 500 Speedway. Our guide Jeff said most of the parking is for media, VIPs, etc, however many of the business up and down the roadway rent out parking spots for the day, and the Daytona 500 itself has a remote lot two miles away with direct bus service (meaning it’s own roadway) straight to the site, so it’s quite convenient. And of course add in the oodles of chartered buses, and private planes landing at the Daytona Airport directly next to the speedway, and somehow everyone fits into to this massive space.

Another interested trivia bit I wondered about when we saw the Speedway from a distance, was the perceived fans sitting in all of those thousands of seats! Up close when we toured the Grandstand seating area, it quickly became more apparent, as the seats were painted in various colors; an old TV camera trick Jeff explained, which from a distance it looks like all the seats are filled! When there is a major race, however, pretty much all of the seats are filled anyway, but it makes for great photos even when there isn’t a race happening.

After the tour, we ended up in the Racing Museum, which we spent nearly an hour or so exploring on our own.

And of course, no attraction anywhere would be complete if it didn’t end up in the gift shop! We did buy a couple magnets and a nice Nascar bottle opener, before heading out to the main lobby and buying our photos. The “green screened” photos turned out really well, and had us standing in a couple different places due to the camera magic and editing.

Summing this whole day and post up, I would say in one word “FANTASTIC”! The quality (and low price of the standard tour) was amazing, and I highly recommend it to anyone, race car fan or not, if you’re down in the Daytona Beach area. Make your reservations in advance online if possible, and there are the standard tours leaving every half hour, which also includes admission to the Auto Museum.

Now, “Gentleman start your engines!”

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