Daytona breaks ground on $400M renovation
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP)
NASCAR driver Greg Biffle climbed into a bulldozer, pulled a few levers and then dumped a load of dirt onto the ground.
Fireworks exploded in the background.
Biffle earned the honor of breaking ground on a $400 million renovation at Daytona International Speedway on Friday. Biffle and fellow driver Trevor Bayne teamed up to win an obstacle-course race in massive front-end loaders outside the famed track.
Biffle and Bayne maneuvered the course faster than two other teams. Fellow Sprint Cup drivers Jeff Burton and Ryan Newman finished second, followed by television announcers Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds.
Biffle and Bayne hoisted trophies in a mock Victory Lane celebration and were rewarded with a brief stint in the cockpit of the bulldozer.
''This counts as a win at Daytona, I think,'' said Biffle, who won his first Cup race at Daytona in 2003.
The event was held on a sweltering summer day at Daytona, drawing a large, sweaty crowd that included several NASCAR and Daytona executives, all of them eager to get ''Daytona Rising'' started.
The three-year project is scheduled to be completed by January 2016. When done, the remodel will give Daytona's aging grandstands a modern look and feel. Wider, more comfortable seats will be installed, as well as improved concessions and countless big-screen televisions that will keep fans abreast of the action even when they step away from the stands.
''When you go to a baseball game, the entire thing is the baseball game,'' Burton said. ''When you go to a NASCAR race, there's all the pre-race stuff, there's things going on before the race - hours before the race you get here - so you have to entertain the fans in other ways other than just the race because they've come to expect it.
''In many ways, it requires more effort from our racetrack owners than baseball or football.''
International Speedway Corp., which owns Daytona and several other NASCAR tracks, believes the project could help boost slumping attendance.
''It's up to us to provide the absolute best experience for fans,'' ISC CEO Lesa France Kennedy said.
Daytona president Joie Chitwood III gave spectators a memorable groundbreaking thanks to the unique race involving 42,000-pound Caterpillar loaders.
Burton and Newman were considered the favorites for the event, mostly because Burton is sponsored by Caterpillar and Newman has experience driving heavy equipment. But Biffle, who owns a small mining company with his brother, and Bayne cruised to victory - with some help from the competition.
''The biggest thing I was disappointed in was how it happened,'' Burton said. ''When (Newman) was getting out of it, he hit the parking brake with his elbow or when I was getting in it, I hit the parking brake, and we didn't realize the parking brake was on because we didn't have a plan to put the parking brake on. We couldn't figure out why it wouldn't go. I finally figured it out, but by that time, we were done.''