DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Is NASCAR's most famous race track ready for some football? Or basketball? Or even hockey?
Daytona International Speedway president Joie Chitwood III thinks it will be after a $400 million renovation, and he is more than a little bit interested in making it happen.
"We're spending $400 million improving our facility," Chitwood told Yahoo! Sports Saturday. "Why wouldn't we?
"We can look at soccer, football, music," he said. "We can do anything. The opportunities are limitless."
The Speedway, which first opened its doors in 1959, had a ceremonial groundbreaking Friday for a $400 million renovation due to be completed in January 2016. Sports Business Daily wrote in February that the new Daytona will look "far more like a contemporary NFL stadium than a racetrack."
The idea of football at the place made famous by the Daytona 500 seems far-fetched, with the emphasis on far: The Speedway is so mammoth – it seats more than 100,000 in the frontstrech – that it's tough to imagine being able to making out the numbers on the backs of players' uniforms from the sweeping grandstand. Yet Chitwood points out that when it holds Supercross events, fans are seated on the track here. So once the renovation is complete and the place is more intimate, he says, "the door is wide open."
Chitwood mentioned college basketball on an aircraft carrier, which has already been done more than once, and suggested he might look at building a hard court at the Speedway as well. "The uniqueness of having a sporting event here would create a lot of media attention," he said.
Asked about even more imaginative ideas, like holding the NHL's Winter Classic (which is scheduled to visit California in January), Chitwood didn't shy away.
"I'd have to see how the technology works," he said, "I'd probably need more intel. But if that can work, why wouldn't I look at that?"
There are certainly hurdles to hosting one of the local football teams: the Jacksonville Jaguars just announced their own renovation of EverBank Field, intended in part to show dedication to fans who have lost home games to London. The Florida Gators already play in Jacksonville annually, against Georgia. And it's not like Florida State is desperate to fill its stands. So the more likely sport is soccer, or perhaps rugby – at least at first.
As for down the line, why not? January and February are reserved for racing – that will never change – but that leaves a lot of open dates. If there's one thing that will always be true about Florida, it's that the demand for more football will never wane. Perhaps by the midpoint of this decade there will be 100 bowl games, and Daytona will land one. (That's a joke. Sorta.)
So what's Chitwood's dream scenario? He grinned at the question.
"Having gone to the University of Florida," he said, "that would be on the list."
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