The Daytona 500, otherwise known as the “Great American Race,” or the “Super Bowl of Racing” is the biggest and most prestigious race on the NASCAR calendar. It usually occurs the Sunday following the Super Bowl or the 3rd Sunday in February.
If you are a true NASCAR fan or not, a trip to Daytona International Speedway is near the top of sports fans bucket lists for sure! As the world’s first motorsport stadium Daytona is legendary. If you are planning a trip for the first time this Daytona 500 guide will give you all the essential information about the big race.
The Daytona 500 is 200 laps around a 2.5-mile oval track for a total of 500 miles. It is a true fan event because two or three hours prior to “start your engines”, fans can experience a live concert on the in-field, (this year Dierks Bentley performed) and the fans can walk around portions of the track, put their signature on the finish line or hang out in the in-field. The NASCAR organization puts together a true fan zone from the dozens of food trucks, BBQ, swag tents, beer gardens and pop up bars. I would suggest arriving around 10/10:30am about 4 hours prior to race time for the full experience. Please read on for best places to stay, what restaurants to try and what you can bring into the Daytona International Speedway.
I would suggest flying into JAX, Jacksonville International Airport. Daytona has a small airport, but I would suggest staying in St. Augustine, Florida. It is about an hour drive from JAX and about a 45-minute drive from Daytona. St. Augustine is the oldest city in the USA and is full of history, picturesque beaches, walkable promenades, and if you love a good pub crawl with live music at every turn, George Street in St. Augustine is for you.
The first hotel I suggest is Casa Monica, right downtown in the historic district of St Augustine, rich in history as it was built in 1888 with its charming ornate chandeliers and exceptional art gallery. The lobby bar is the place to go even if you are not staying there, there is usually a live small jazz band or piano player nestled within the crowd. The rooms have red velvet headboards and take on the historic theme of the hotel. The second hotel I would suggest is a 15-minute drive from the party scene of the historical district and literally right on the beach. Normally I wouldn’t give an Embassy Suites a rave review but this one is lovely. You are right on the beach, and you can make it a mini beach vacay. The hotel is only two years old and the lobby, pool area and Cantina restaurant exceeded my expectations. So, if you want more of a beach day before the race, stay at the Embassy Suites and you can always Uber/Lyft to St. George Street for walking, shopping and dinner.
Which leads me to the best bars and restaurants in historic St. Augustine. You really can’t go wrong because “winging it” is sometimes the most fun! I would suggest exploring the narrow, no-car promenades and bumping into dive bar after dive bar if you want a true pub crawl along George Street. But I would highly recommend making reservations or stopping in at River & Fort for amazing cocktails – and where the dinner cuisine exceeded our expectations. The two roof tops had a cool vibe, and the service was amazing. For more formal dining, try the award-winning Collage, then head to The Tiny Martini Bar and/or Harry’s along the water. If you feel like going for walk across the bridge which I would definitely do if you can, The Odd Birds has some of the best craft cocktails I’ve ever had. The Bartender’s Choice wins my vote for sure!
Now let’s get to Race Day of the Daytona 500. Here are some tips for race day and a list of what you can bring in with you to the Daytona International Speedway.
I would suggest getting there early. Leave your hotel at 8:30 or 9:00am. Traffic getting into the speedway area is not easy and could take over 90 minutes. Whether you have VIP passes or General Admission this blog is for all! You don’t have to get VIP pit passes but I would suggest it if you are a true NASCAR fan or to cross it off your bucket list! It is worth it. In addition, the garage tour of the race cars being inspected is a site to see if you want to splurge for that experience as well. If you buy the VIP passes you can stand right behind the pit area of one of the teams. We watched about 50 laps in the pits, and it was super loud and fun to see the crews in action. The car and drivers reach almost 200 mph, so they blow by in a blink when they are racing at those top speeds. If you are seated in the stands, you can get a great pre-race experience three hours prior to race time, walking in the in-field and rockin’ at the concert.
What to bring and what to wear to the Daytona 500.
You can bring a small backpack or bag (18x18x4) is the limit. I would suggest wearing comfortable sneakers, and of course many people styled up in checkered crop tops, denim jeans, black and white outfits, cowboy boots, ball caps, but pretty much anything goes! I went full on fringe as you can see in the pictures but you do you. Footwear is the most important because I logged over 24,000 steps. The International Speedway is huge, hosts around 250,000 people and is one of the largest sporting events in the world, so there is a lot of ground to cover.
In your bag bring sunscreen, a light long sleeve shirt or jacket as the race can go well over four hours; binoculars, ear plugs, a large empty thermos to full up with water, and I even saw many people bring their own sandwiches and snacks into the event. I would bring a portable charger for your phone, a portable radio to listen in to the motorway’s commentary and even the crew chiefs talk to their drivers. Include a sharpie in your belongings to sign the track, and you will most likely see a driver or his team walking around so be sure to ask for an autograph if you are a true fan!
You are now prepared for the once in a lifetime most iconic NASCAR race! Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any additional questions. Sign up for our newsletter and subscribe to stellargirl.com for more travel blogs & epic adventures.