The 24 Hours Of Daytona should be a motorsports tradition for all car enthusiasts and here is why.
Daytona International Speedway has always been our unofficial debut event for the professional motorsports season around the world. It is a welcoming feeling to catch the aroma of race fuel in the garages. The purebred race engines being fired up, with the sound of waking beasts hungry to feast on speed. The garages filled with sounds of last-minute preparations, the loud swirling noise of impact guns, tools clanking to the ground as another is picked up and the sound of air hissing out of the air jacks like a snake ready to strike. These sounds are just the first hour we made it to the race track.
Ace Cafe Pitstop
The trip to Daytona started on Friday with a stop at Ace Cafe Orlando, which shares the name with the legendary Ace Cafe London. Ace Cafe iconic status in motorcycle culture stems from the cafe racers it inspired, “It became the place to meet, have a meal or cup of tea, arrange runs (often to other cafes or the coast) or simply to mend your bike” states the Ace Cafe Orlando website. Now the new Ace Cafe Orlando is a place for everyone. Be it a car or motorcycle enthusiasts or people who enjoy music and a great atmosphere.
A few motorcycles in the 2nd-floor lounge area of Ace Cafe Orlando
Some of the artwork we saw in the 2nd-floor lounge.
Arriving At Daytona
After we enjoyed our food, music, and general overall atmosphere of Ace Cafe we drove (about an hour north) to our hotel that was close to Daytona International Speedway. We recommend once you are at the hotel the day before the 24 Hours of Daytona, to leave everything ready for an early morning wake up. The earlier you reach the race track, the fewer crowds and more access to drivers and garages. If you are curious or need a reference guide for what you need to bring and tips for a better 24 Hours of Daytona experience from seasoned spectators we wrote a Travel Guide for the 24 Hours of Daytona (click here), for race fans made by passionate race fans.
Race Cars And Coffee
The cell phone alarm played its soothing wake-up melody (the only way I can wake up without being jarred awake and grumpy). Hear that alarm for a race event becomes the only time I wake up in a happy mood. A morning event that I’m driving is a similar mood. Pack my last-minute supplies like recently charged batteries and external battery packs, put my backpack on one shoulder and make my way to the free continental breakfast. When booking a hotel near Daytona International Speedway, it will be in your best interest if you find one with free breakfast. The breakfast was a perfect start for a long but great day of cars and motorsports, since “racing is life, anything that happens before or after is just waiting” after all.
The Motorsports Stadium
We were already running late and took a quick 10-15 minute walk towards the race track until we spotted the vast Daytona International Speedway. So large in fact that two full Disneylands fit within the speedway, ironically because Daytona is a Disneyland for all car enthusiasts. Daytona is always a sight for sore eyes, no racing circuit I have been to compares to Daytona on the day of the 24-hour race. It is not a typical thing to have almost unlimited access to a legendary track; this is one of the significant benefits of endurance racing over other motorsports – access to drivers, teams, different seating sections all day long. You can see your favorite driver or car casually pass you at any time near the garages, not a typical experience in Formula One.
Entry To Motorsports’ First Stadium
Once we reached the Florida Hospital Gate on the west side of Daytona Speedway, we follow a line of patient fans waiting for the tram to pick them up and take them to the infield section (save your feet as much as you). Depending on the time you arrive you can hear distant cars roaring exhaust notes echoing inside the world’s first racing stadium.
The tram takes us to the infield tram lot close to the International Horseshoe Turn. We plan to catch a small glimpse of the support races and make our way to the Fanzone section; this is where you can buy merchandise, and eat. The Fanzone section is also where we find the Heritage Exhibition Display, the classic race cars parking area after the exhibition race laps. The autograph signing and garages are nearby as well.
Race Cars Are Like Fine Wine
We decide to stay by the Heritage Exhibition display of classic race cars. Since we are car nerds, we looked at as many classic race cars as possible. We may have looked at the cars more thoroughly than the workers from their respective manufacturers, every nook, and cranny to gain ideas for future projects. Motorsports history fascinates us and seeing how far and fast, a professional race car has evolved is great to see. We need it to keep developing since the world continues going towards greener technology. A compromise that is a win-win for auto manufacturers, motorsports, and spectators benefits everyone involved.
Some of the classic race cars displayed near the Fanzone section.
An IMSA Mazda RX-7, I’m a sucker for Japanese race cars with Panasport wheels.
After viewing racing history and getting a glimpse of some of the drivers in the autograph session, it was time to make our way to where the opening ceremony is (pit row and start/finish line area). The opening ceremony was a little more special do to Fernando Alonso’s endurance racing debut. We never heard a louder crowd at this event, and it was all due to Alonso’s appearance.
Stepping On Hallowed Grounds
The day takes an extraordinary turn when you start walking past pit row and onto the Daytona Speedway track. Everyone needs to experience the banks at Daytona; it is a track that adapts to many types of racing with 31-degree banking in the turns and 18-degree banking at the start/finish line. We stood on the 18-degree section, and that was steep. For now, all we can do is to dream of the day to drive on the 31-degree banks at wide-open throttle.
The 18-degree bank section close to the Start/Finish line, so imagine how steep the 31-degree bank on the turns.
Renovations At Daytona
The stadium section is different than it was just a few years ago and you can see the significant updates from standing by pit row or the Daytona Speedway lawn. February of 2016 was its official completion and in January of that year, The 24 Hours of Daytona was the first event held after the major renovations to the track. Daytona International Speedway will always be an incredible architectural achievement let alone a racing circuit.
The Daytona Speedway lawn gives you a better view of the stadium section upgrades and a view when they open the track for the opening ceremony.
Starting The Motorsport Marathon
The time has finally come to start the motorsports season in North America with the start of the 24 Hours of Daytona. “Gentlemen and ladies start your engines!” is heard from Chip Ganassi and the line of race cars in almost perfect unison fire up their engines. Even from the upper stadium seating, we could distinguish the different exhaust notes from the higher-pitched flat-sixes of the Porsches and the lower bass rumble of American V8s from the Corvettes.
Starting off the engines and pulling out of pit row for warm-up laps.
We tend to relate more to the GTD and GTLM class cars than the Prototype class. It just seems natural to gravitate towards the familiar. The GTD and GTLM cars are race versions of what we see at auto shows or on the streets. It is excellent to see all-out, no compromise speed of the Prototypes but we believe it is the “regular cars” that relates and brings fans to the track. The classic phrase “race on Sunday and sell on Monday” rings true.
Chevy vs. BMW battle, their street counterparts benefit from auto racing. Data from these classes help develop better streetcars in the future.
Lexus RC-F GT3 one our favorite race cars, blame my bias Toyota love for that.
The 24 Hours of Daytona starts, and it’s an endurance feat for everyone, drivers, race teams and cars. It is enjoyable for the hardcore fan of cars or motorsports. The sound of race cars echoes around Daytona International Speedway; ear protection is your ally after a few hours of non-stop, red-lining and gear shifting exhaust notes. It is an endurance test on how much do you love cars? If we could stay up for 24 hours, we would, but that would have a drastic effect on our drive home and memory retention for this blog post.
When night falls (especially late-night) it becomes another event; the crowds minimize, the race cars lights flicker on one by one, the blistering red/orange heat streaks of brake rotors is visible on heavy braking zones. In some track sections, you can only make out headlights, lighted number plates, and other lighting markers. Daytona International Speedway becomes another animal to tame as it is the “largest lighted sports facility in North America, with over 2,000 lights installed since the first night race in 1998.” (quote from Daytona International Speedway website)”
Ferrari’s lights were flickering on just before dusk.
Race car’s lights on at Daytona means a new foe for the drivers and teams – nightfall and light’s glare.
This Ferrari and Audi duo resembles more of a lightsaber battle than racing.
Bright lights were bouncing off the Daytona banks and walls all night.
The lowered bassed rumble exhaust note of this Corvette we became familiar with everytime it approached.
The higher pitched flat-six exhaust of the Porsches was another distinctive sound all around Daytona International Speedway.
The Midnight Grassroots Motorsports Tour
The night is usually chilly, well for us Floridians at least but it adds to the atmosphere of lights, cars, racing, and even more exhaust notes, by this time you will know the Corvette’s and Porsche’s exhaust notes. It is a little past 11 pm and The Midnight Grassroots Motorsports Tour is our goal, it has eluded us every other time we have gone to the 24 Hours of Daytona. We make it to the Grassroots Motorsports Hospitality Tent early. We rest our feet and wait. A short time passes, and the Grassroots Motorsports employees gather, organize the group, hand out Mazda gifts to the first 50 people, and we are off to our first stop.
Some famous butts sat in this press room and on that podium.
The first stop is the press conference room where we have a front row seat to this meeting. The editor of Grassroots Motorsports Magazine (GRM) greets everyone and gives us the rundown on what the tour consists. An important note – that if you hang out by their hospitality tent wearing their gear (hat, beanie, shirt, hoodie, etc.) or you bribe them with cookies or GRM staff just randomly like you before the race they can give you a golden ticket. Just a few highlights of the golden ticket is a behind the scenes tour of the hot pits and standing high up on the flagger’s stand (start/finish line).
A Peek Inside Pro Motorsports
In the Daytona Speedway press room, a Mazda Motorsport director gives us some insider information about how one of the most successful endurance race teams (Joest Racing) partnered with Mazda to race in the 24 Hours of Daytona. It is funny how race teams keep secrets from their competitors. It’s just the professional version of schoolyard tactics of keeping secrets. After the “motorsport storytime,” which we enjoyed, we made our way with Grassroots Motorsports to the garages for late night (unfortunate for race teams) action. We saw frantic repairs to the front section of Fernando Alonso’s United Autosport Prototype, near the brakes hydraulic systems. We saw other cars and focused technicians repairing other vehicles or teams that retired from the race altogether.
Fernando Alonso’s United Autosport car in for late night work.
This driver was waiting patiently for repairs to finish.
A technician hid away in the back doing some repairs.
The Sports Car Racing Night Cap
The time came (around 1:30 am) to make our way back to the hotel. All of us car guys tend to be or become night-owls. Thanks to wrenching on our cars until the early morning. Sometimes using sunrise as our deadline to finish our work. The night changes the race and the mood and makes us feel at home in some weird way. The race track has always been a 2nd home for us, and I am sure many others.
We are taking a few last glimpses of the garage and hot pits section on our way back to the hotel.
We got a quick glimpse of Acura’s hot pits.
The last look of the race track as we leave to get some sleep.
A Sunrise And A Checkered Flag
The sunrise comes quicker than you think and the morning ritual begins again. The alarm sounds waking everyone up. The 3 hours or so of sleep is an old acquaintance. Thanks to years of working into the early hours of the morning to prepare for a track day. It is time to pack the batteries for the camera, external battery packs and cell phone. We have a warm breakfast waiting for us in a quiet and weatherproof suite on the Midway section in Daytona Speedway. All this becomes a great luxury when you are hungry, tired and chilly. The warm breakfast in the Midway Suites is part of the Grassroots Motorsports ticket package.
The warm breakfast in the Midway suites is an excellent luxury with the Grassroots Motorsports Ticket Package.
Preparing For The Final Hours
After a satisfied stomach, it is time to watch the remaining hours of the race. The clocks tick down for what is a torturous eternity for the race teams leading the pack. Tick tock goes their aspirations for victory or for a time bomb mechanical failure ending their race day. We have seen raw emotions in sprint races be it joy or despair. One can only imagine coming 23 hours and 53 minutes from victory. Then, the hopelessness of “contact” costing you the win like last year.
Lamborgini racing closer and closer to history, Lamborgini earned its first-ever win in a 24-hour race.
This time karma came back around and rewarded the team that lost last years race. There are also other records to mention like most laps ever in a 24 Hours of Daytona race. Then, Lamborgini’s first victory in any 24-hour race. We could see the overwhelming glee on the faces of Action Express drivers and team members. It is always a satisfying feeling to see a well-deserved victory.
The white flag waves on the 2018 24 Hours of Daytona.
A well-deserved victory for the Mustang Sampling team.
Ford had a great victory they led all but nine of the 783 laps completed.
Victory And Exhaustion
The race fuel smell fades, the sound of wrenches and other tools clanking on the ground replaced with storing tools and packing up duties. The pure breed race cars roar is quiet and in hibernation until the next race. All that is left are exhausted drivers, mechanics, and fans filing out of Daytona Speedway. Everyone left Daytona tired but satisfied from the 24hr show. Daytona International Speedway puts on a fantastic event. It keeps making all race fans come together, from Nascar to F1. Once you experience the 24 Hours of Daytona, there is no going back. Be prepared for your new motorsport tradition. All it takes is the slightest interest in cars.