TAMPA — Daytona International Speedway president Frank Kelleher said NASCAR’s recent street race through downtown Chicago showed the Cup Series can put on a great show in any city in the world.
What about one in the state?
“Never say never, right?” Kelleher said.
The track and NASCAR have kicked around bold ideas in the past. After MLB played at the Field of Dreams site in 2021, there were water-cooler conversations about NASCAR returning to its roots by racing on the beach.
“It’d be a lot of fun,” Kelleher said. “I just don’t know if, in 2024, vehicles racing on the beach aligns with environmental concerns.”
A NASCAR race through a Florida downtown might be fun, too. But IndyCar already has one, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Add in Formula 1′s Miami race, NASCAR events at Daytona and Homestead-Miami Speedway, and events at Sebring International Raceway, and Kelleher said motorsports has to consider a local saturation point.
“The stars would really need to align before we took over a city in Florida, in my opinion,” Kelleher said.
The Tampa Bay Times recently sat down with Kelleher — in town for last week’s NASCAR day during a Rays-Braves game — for a wide-ranging conversation that hit on other topics.
Could the Jacksonville Jaguars play at Daytona?
Daytona is interested becoming the Jaguars’ temporary home when TIAA Bank Field undergoes a major renovation, likely in 2026-27. Kelleher’s pitch:
“We have over 700 RV spots that are ready for full hookups, so why not have the Jags weekend start on Friday loading into tailgate and program some sort of festival-like activity (like a concert) on Saturday?
“The level of suites that we have, the temporary seating that we can build bespoke to what their needs are, and then thinking about the Jags fans, it’s an easy ride down I-95. We’re right off the highway. So, from a convenience standpoint, if you’re a season-ticket holder we feel that we have a pretty compelling story.”
The logistics would be complicated — the track would need temporary locker rooms, weight rooms and coaches’ areas. Preseason games could clash with the NASCAR regular-season finale (this year’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 is Aug. 26), and playoffs could bleed into the racing schedule. But the track hosted soccer games last summer, and Kelleher said football could work, too, if both sides want to pay for the construction and takedown of temporary facilities. If so, that opens another opportunity …
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College football at Daytona International Speedway
Hosting non-racing events was part of the track’s plan when it decided to undergo a $400 million renovation, which finished in 2016. That includes college football.
Nothing has materialized because scheduling and money around a one-off game are complicated. But they’d become easier if the track hosts the Jaguars; the field and football amenities would already be there and sitting unused when the Jaguars are on the road.
“It kind of changes the financial model of it …” Kelleher said.
Perhaps enough for two teams to play at a racetrack, as Tennessee and Virginia Tech did at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2016.
Renovating The Swamp
The Florida Gators have stressed that their $400 million renovation to The Swamp will modernize the facility without stripping it of its nostalgic charm. It sounds a lot like what Daytona faced with its renovation: How do you make a historic facility modern without losing the history?
Kelleher said the track did so by leaving the core product (racing) alone but updating everything else for fans. Ingress and egress. Signs and sponsors. Restrooms and Wi-Fi. Elevators and escalators so fans don’t have to trudge up 90 steps.
“There is kind of that sweet spot of, don’t forget how you got here and what people are expecting and that nostalgia is important,” Kelleher said. “But, as well, you can’t rest on your laurels.
“I think if it’s authentically done from the point of view of what’s going to make the guests have more fun, you can’t lose. Even your traditional people of, ‘Oh, it’s different.’ If, in the end, their experience got easier and got more fulfilling, they’re going to be happy.”
What’s next for Daytona International Speedway
Kelleher said it’d be fun to add another music festival to the track’s offerings. He sees more opportunities with its Supercross motorcycle events and IMSA sports car races and suggested the speedway could host Monster Jam. He’d also like to reimagine the infield — garage areas, camping experiences and other amenities — but that would take “significant capital.”