For some people it’s a bucket list item. But, for me, it was an unexpected opportunity that I’m grateful for and still ecstatic to have experienced.
The rev of a NASCAR engine as you zip around Daytona International Speedway at almost 150 miles per hour doing eight laps in a race car that used to belong to a NASCAR driver is truly an adventure-seeker’s delight. Although, for me, the experience still feels a little surreal.
Not exactly a racing fan, I left Austin during November’s Formula 1 weekend to give the NASCAR race car a whirl. A beautiful new hotel, The DAYTONA – a Marriott Autograph collection property — awaited this rookie racer.
I delighted in the hotel’s attention to detail, including seats subtly made from seat belt material and menus designed to look like a car owner’s manual. Not to mention the historical elements placed throughout the hotel. Walls of racing photos, shelves of memorabilia, and historic race cars placed in the lobby, made for a memorable first time in Daytona.
Fast forward to race day. Nervous energy – along with excitement — filled the air. In our group, I was one of two people who had never driven a stick shift before. No worries. The team at Daytona International Speedway had that covered. They offer a push – and you’re on your way; without having to worry about switching gears once you’re on the track.
Before getting onto the track, however, we first watched a training video. Then we suited up. To have the full racing experience, you suit up just like a NASCAR racer. Fire suit and helmet. The experience sounds dangerous – but it’s very safe. (Maybe even safer than driving around some Texas highways.) Though it can sound intimidating, the speedway in Daytona has never experienced a crash during any of its race experience packages.
In fact, safety is a priority at the track. They allow only a small number of amateur racers on the track at once, so you don’t have to worry about crashing into anyone. In the event someone does lap you, you have a spotter who alerts you that someone is about to pass. Did I get lapped? I’m proud to say that didn’t even come close to happening. In fact, my last lap was 30 times faster than my first lap. Much of my racing success was due to a very friendly, very supportive spotter, by the name of Mario. He and a few other people helped get me situated in the car with some final instructions.
Climbing into the car through the window is a must, as race cars for NASCAR don’t have doors. Once inside, the car is authentic to a NASCAR racecar. It’s very interesting to see how different the cars are made, as opposed to everyday cars. It’s a tight fit – even for someone who is only 5 feet 2 inches tall. The good news is they select your car based on how tall you are. The guys in our group who were around 6 feet tall were also able to get into their cars without much difficulty. Once situated, you’re locked in with special gear to protect your neck.
On the track, I started slow – but with my spotter’s help, I worked my way up to a tad over 143 miles per hour. The NASCAR race cars are designed to automatically veer left, so going around the bend isn’t as hard as you’d think, and racers are encouraged to drive faster around the curves. Despite all of this, I didn’t take my eyes off of the road for even a split-second.
After your eighth lap, you are directed to go back into pit row. And once you exit the car, you can pick up your souvenir video.
Even with my lack of experience, I’d like to think I showed the group a little bit of “Texas speed.” I came in second place, only lagging seven miles per hour behind a more experienced racer.
After a successful excursion, it was back to The DAYTONA for a yummy lunch. During our visit, we tried two dining options on the property. Prohibition-themed The Blue Flame, and Sir Malcolm (named for Sir Malcolm Campbell) offer unique menu items that are sure to satisfy any palette. Outside of the hotel, ONE DAYTONA shopping center offers additional food options, including a brew to table restaurant, Rock Bottom Brewery, and an abundance of shopping options. The weekend when we visited, classic cars lined the streets for a car show.
Of course, no trip to Daytona is complete without a visit to the beach and The DAYTONA is conveniently only four miles away. Having never visited Daytona, I enjoyed watching cars drive along the sand. Beach driving is an experience unique to this automotive-focused resort, given its hard-packed sand.
After a long day of adventure, you’ll be happy to relax at The DAYTONA. A fire pit is open nightly near the pool, along with extended pool hours through 11pm. The hot tub is a quiet area, and a nice way to unwind after a busy day of racing, kayaking, beach walking, and shopping.
Reservations for The DAYTONA can be made online. In addition to traditional reservations, packaged deals are available, which include dining discounts with the purchase of a NASCAR racing experience.
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Cover photo courtesy Britni Rachal
Britni Rachal lives in Austin, Texas. She is a freelance journalist and a full-time marketer within the automotive industry. In addition to writing, Britni enjoys traveling, event planning, fashion, fitness and serving the Austin community.