Your guide to the Daytona 500
There are plenty of good reasons to visit the beautiful Floridian city of Daytona Beach, but any NASCAR fan knows that the best reason is the Daytona 500, also known as the "Great American Race." Taking place each year on the final Sunday in February, the competition is the most illustrious of all the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series motor races. In fact, it attracts hundreds of viewers of spectators to the Daytona International Speedway annually, not to mention the 10 million viewers who watch from home. Be there when your favorite NASCAR racer crosses the track and start preparing for the excursion early - tickets, hotel rooms and Florida rental cars go almost as fast as the stock cars.
History of the race
While the Daytona 500 didn't officially begin until 1959 when the Daytona International Speedway opened, its history goes back further. It all began in 1903 - a group of auto racing fans came across Ormond Beach and found that its thickly packed sands were perfect for going head to head in a match to see just how fast a car can actually go. Since that year, the Daytona Beach region became known for its beach racing opportunities, attracting drivers and auto lovers from all over the country to the area. One of them was "Big Bill" France, a mechanic who moved to Daytona and, with time and a growing love for the beach, decided to build the Daytona Beach Motor Speedway ("Beach Motor" was later swapped for "International" when the sport grew to its massive popularity). Since the speedway became the official track of the Daytona 500 at the end of the 1950s, famous names in the sport such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon have graced the checkered line.
What to expect at the Daytona 500
When you arrive at the International Speedway, you will need a special pass to park your Daytona Beach car rental. If you don't purchase your pass ahead of time, you can find paid parking at a nearby establishment like the mall across the road or a parking lot. Taxi and shuttle services are also plentiful this time of year to accommodate Daytona 500 fans who plan on drinking during the event. When you enter the stadium, you'll find a swarm of fans filling the stands, whooping, hollering, stomping and clapping for their favorite race car driver.
About the race
The Daytona 500 is the most renowned race among all motor car competitions. The course runs 500 miles, over which drivers go 200 laps. It's known as a "restrictor race," meaning that there's a control device installed in the intake of the engine that restricts the top speed. It allows for a safe competition as well as a fair contest so that each driver has a chance at winning. Whoever takes first receives the biggest purse among all four Sprint Cup races. It changes each year, but in 2014, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won more than $1.5 million - the highest it has ever reached.