Joie Chitwood, the president of Daytona International Speedway, wants college football fans to experience the grandest tailgate in the history of the game. How? By potentially hosting a game there. The speedway will unveil a completely new stadium-style grandstand before the 2016 season.
“We have the property,” Chitwood told SI.com, “where fans can camp inside and roll out to the game. It could be the largest tailgate inside one stadium.”
Daytona wants to give a little motorsports flavor to college football, with onsite camping and tailgating. The speedway will first show off some football-style renovations: The frontstretch grandstand, first opened in 1959, will be rebuilt with three levels of concourses, and escalators that bring fans within 20 rows of their seat. Construction is underway, and the schedule is for a January 2016 opening -- in time for the '16 Daytona 500 and in plenty of time to possibly stage a college football game later that fall.
Hosting college football isn’t entirely new to Daytona. The grass infield between pit road and the start line is actually dubbed the “football field” by staff. The lawn is large enough to host a game, as it did in the 1970s. Temporary fields wouldn't be necessary.
“The grass area is a ball field, a football field,” Chitwood said. “It had college football and we want to get back into the mix. We are seeing more unique games and we have a unique venue with a lot of space and we want to explore the opportunity.”
Daytona previously hosted at least four college games, with Daytona-based Bethune-Cookman defeating Florida A&M, Mississippi Valley State, Savannah State and Alabama A&M, respectively, in front of crowds as large as 22,300 during the 1974 and '75 seasons. While Bristol Motor Speedway will beat Daytona to the punch in September 2016 by hosting the Battle at Bristol -- which pits Virginia Tech against Tennessee -- Chitwood says that having 500 acres of property and the ability for a hefty portion of a potential game’s 101,000 fans to camp onsite and tailgate inside the 2.5-mile tri-oval track gives Daytona International Speedway a reason to revive history. Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and technology for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.