Daytona | Daytona 500 | 24 Hours of Daytona
Any of these words evokes automobile racing.
Daytona Beach Florida takes pride in at least two things: their beach and their role in the history of automobile racing in America.
The area now known as Daytona Beach was once the Orange Grove Plantation, a citrus and sugar cane plantation granted to Samuel Williams in 1787. After Williams death in 1810, his family ran the plantation until it burned down in 1835. In 1871 Mathias Day, Jr, purchased the 3,200 acre property and built a hotel around which the city of Daytona Beach formed. Before long Day's financial woes resulted in him losing title to the property, but the residents decided to name the city Daytona in his honor. The railroad arrived in Daytona in 1886 and the place became a popular destination. By 1926 the separate towns of Daytona, Daytona Beach, Kingston, and Seabreeze merged as "Daytona Beach" and claimed the distinction as "The World's Most Famous Beach".
Daytona's wide beach of compacted sand attracted car and motorcycle racing as early as 1902. By 1904 the 23 mile-long beach was the site of land speed records competed for by the innovators of the time. By 1936 stock car racing came to town. For 50 years the beach meant racing, but by 1959 Bill France Sr. and NASCAR moved the races to the Daytona International Speedway, just a few miles from the famous beach. By comparison the first Indy 500 race was held in 1911. Not to have the track out done by the beach, the speedway is called "The World Center of Racing".
Nan and I had never been to Daytona and this year we agreed with Don and Shirley that it was time to witness it first hand at the 24 Hours of Daytona race. Don and Shirley had been before,so they served as tour guides.
We were slightly concerned how we would feel witnessing the first race of the new 2022 IMSA season, with the realigned classes for GTD and GTD Pro. The season always begins at Daytona in January with the first endurance race of the year. The race would start on Saturday afternoon with a field of 13 GTD Pro cars including the two C8R Corvettes. That field was much larger than the prior year in which, by season's end, all the competitors had quit except for two Corvettes and a single Porsche. Making the field even more crowded for the 2022 season, there were an additional 22 entries in the nearly identical class of GTD. That's a lot of cars bumping into each other.
The Fantastic Foursome flew together from San Diego to Orlando, rented an SUV, piled our luggage in back and headed for Daytona Beach. We drove about 40 miles up the interstate to the Daytona area, and exited onto "International Speedway Boulevard" -- we were pretty sure this was the right exit! We drove all the way to Highway 1 on the Atlantic Ocean and here is what we saw:
We turned north in search of our hotel. Shirley had secured us ocean-view rooms at the Hilton Daytona Beach Ocean-Front Resort. So nice! Thank you, Shirley!
Arriving at the track we were impressed at its size.
We had prearranged for a great race weekend package that included seating in an exclusive club area right at the start-finish line.
Like a cruise experience, we enjoyed the all-you-can-eat-and-drink food program, inside seating, access to the grandstands, and passes to go to the infield. We took advantage of all of it.
Getting access to the track was a breeze.
Saturday morning we took our usual pit walk, and wandered over to the Corvette Corral in time to see the drivers, and passed by the C8R cars.
As we always do, we stopped by the Corvette garage to encourage the mechanics and pit crew.
Before long the crowds were being ushered back to their seats for the start of the race. As we walked across the track, at the start-finish line, the "straight" part of the track (which you would think would be flat), we were astonished to see how much of an angle there was to the track surface. You can see it in the photo below. It was steep enough that it took effort to "climb" up to the grandstands.
But . . . that angle is nothing compared to the banked turns at either end of the track -- there the angle is 31 degrees making the top edge of the track 20 feet higher than the bottom edge.
The race began at 1:30 in the afternoon. It didn't take long for us to realize that the Balance of Performance (BOP) was skewed against the Corvettes. They were losing about 1.5 seconds per lap to the other GTD-Pro cars and weren't able to keep ahead of all of the GTD cars. This was going to be a very long event.
As we learned at Le Mans and Sebring, if you car isn't leading in an endurance race, life quickly becomes boring. But we knew the perfect distraction. We went shopping in the infield! We made the rounds of all the displays of cars and car stuff, scored our free Corvette Racing shirts, and Nan and Shirley each landed a free coveted Michelin Man stuffed doll!
As night fell, so did the temperatures. Florida is supposed to be warm in the winter, but a cold front had passed through many of the Southern states and the temperatures were so cold that there was a fear that the track temperatures might make driving dangerous and the race could be cut short.
In need of stimulation, we left the track and walked across International Speedway Boulevard to a hip shopping/dining area called ONE DAYTONA. This place was hopping, packed with exotic cars, music, young people and upscale restaurants. We enjoyed a nice dinner and then headed back to our hotel for the night.
Sunday was as cold, or colder, than Saturday but the race continued to the end.
The results were very disappointing for the defending championship team, 6th place for the Number 3 Corvette (electrical problems cost them 13 laps in the middle of the night) and 10th place for the Number 4 car (which was struck from behind after a restart).
When your team is down, your best relief is having good friends around you -- and we did.
We headed back to the Hilton, stopping along the way for some liquid refreshment and snacks. Then the four of us retreated to Don and Shirley's room to watch football. I can't remember who was playing but we just wanted to cheer on a winner.
On Monday morning, before heading back to the airport for our flights, Nan and I walked the boardwalk in front of our hotel. The city has done a marvelous job of recording the racing history of Daytona on the seawall and in kiosks situated every few hundred yards. It was a nice end to our time there.
Our next Corvette Race would be at Long Beach, California.
Thanks Don and Shirley for our Daytona experience!