Daytona groundbreaking fun for fans, drivers

Holly Cain

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. ? Against the imposing backdrop of the venerable 54-year-old Daytona International Speedway main grandstands, Ford drivers Greg Biffle and Trevor Bayne took turns behind the wheel of a giant excavator Friday morning to officially break ground on the facility's $400 million redevelopment project called: "Daytona Rising: Reimagining an American Icon.''

Biffle and the 2011 Daytona 500 winner Bayne won the right to kick off the historic project by defeating the team of Chevy drivers Jeff Burton and Ryan Newman and the team of NASCAR Hall of Fame racer Darrell Waltrip and Daytona 500-winning crew chief Larry McReynolds -- NASCAR on FOX boothmates -- in a front-end loader obstacle-course race in front of longtime International Speedway Corporation employees and a hundred fans.

"This is ground-breaking Daytona style,'' Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood told the enthusiastic crowd.

"No one does it as big and bold as Daytona.''

This massive three-year redevelopment project confirms as much.

Expected to complete in time for the 2016 Daytona Speedweeks, the project will feature new frontstretch grandstands designed to upgrade the fan experience at the sport's flagship track.

There will be new entrance facades, bigger seats, escalators and 11 "neighborhoods" -- each the size of a football field -- which will serve as gathering points with WiFi access, restaurants and shops, all maintaining a view of the race track so fans don't miss any action.

The construction will be done in phases and eventually the grandstands on the back straightaway or "Superstretch" portion of the 2.5-mile speedway will be removed with all seating will be on the front side.

"We recognize there are so many options for our fans on a daily basis. They just have so many choices, and it's up to us to provide the absolute best experience for them and I feel like this new Daytona Rising project will do just that,'' International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa France Kennedy said moments after a brief fireworks show signaled the initial ground-breaking.

"I'm proud of the history and tradition of this place, and we are so fortunate to be able to build on that foundation at Daytona International Speedway. I just cannot wait for 2016, cannot wait. The design and plans are so exciting.''

The drivers who participated in the event were equally -- and genuinely -- awed by both Friday's experience and the anticipation of the track's new look.

"This is very special for me,'' said Bayne, recognizing his historic relationship with the facility as a Daytona 500 winner.

Burton stressed what a monumental undertaking it was and reminded reporters the unique challenge for motorsports facilities compared to football or baseball stadiums.

"We have to provide fans so much more because they spend so much more time at the track before the race,'' Burton said, stressing that with other sports, it's more strictly about the game itself while a race is a day-long affair.

Work on the track's necessary new infrastructure will begin immediately following Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola here with initial work primarily underground. Chitwood said there wouldn't be any seating changes in 2014.