Daytona breaks ground on $400M renovation

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.”