But, I’m very fortunate to have attended the Rolex24 @ Daytona, 5 times since 2007.
Need a break from Ontario’s Ol’ Man Winter? For over 50 years, this classic IMSA-sanctioned 24-hour sports car race has been held on the last weekend of January. If you love world-class sports cars and drivers, consider attending. My 5-day trips (when our dollar was close to par) cost me less than $1,000 round trip! That included return airfare to Orlando; 4-day tickets (including garage passes; catered lunch on the Saturday; pit suite with TV; souvenir cap); my share of the: hotel; food; rental van; & gas. A bargain! Other expenses were souvenirs; beer; & local attractions.
Today, it’s closer to $1,500, I’d guess.
We usually flew from Toronto’s Pearson to Orlando, because Buffalo can be a dicey drive, and the airfares were about the same. There are no direct/non-stop flights from Toronto to Daytona. We usually rented a minivan. Then we’d make the 1 hour trek north up I-4, to Daytona. The van allowed us to tailgate, & stretch out. We stayed in an older, but very clean Florida “art-deco” hotel, right on Daytona’s Atlantic Ocean coast. It was only 15 minutes to the track. We’d pack lunches, and usually prepare meals, in the efficiency hotel. We would go out to eat on occasion.
Daytona International Speedway is known as the “World Center of Speed.” It is huge! 447 acres large. The track was built in 1959 (same as me!), but didn’t host the 1st 3 hour Daytona Continental until 1962. Dan Gurney, in a Lotus 19B, won that year. In ‘64, the race was lengthened to 2,000 km. In ‘66, it became a 24-hour race.
Due to the flat land, they excavated, and created the 39-acre Lake Lloyd. The dirt made the 33-degree banking possible. One year, some brave souls ran a 24-hour marathon on Jet-skis, during the race. The lake is stocked with fish, but is infested with snakes and gators!
Once, we were bottle-necked at the east tunnel. We asked the traffic control gentleman, “what’s the difference between this and the Daytona 500 crowd?” That’s easy, he said: “Rolex24’s: Porsches & Ferraris … 500: pick-up trucks!”
For this race, the track is configured in a “Ro-val.” That is, it uses the 2.5-mile Nascar tri-oval, plus a 1.8 mile infield extension. The metric total is 6.13 kms.
There are 2 prototype classes, & 2 GT classes. All try to win 1st overall, and/or their class win. Each team usually has 3 or 4 drivers. Their stint is usually 2 hours, with a pit stop, every hour, or so. These are very expensive cars! One year, I recall, a Porsche 911 GT class car from Vancouver had to replace a gearbox (transmission) for $30,000! AIM Motorsports, of Woodbridge used to compete there. Two times they didn’t enter, so they could compete in the rest of the season! 24 hours is gruelling on the team budget, the mechanics, the drivers, & the cars! The top 3 driver teams in each class win a Rolex watch! Prize money amounts seem to be a closely guarded secret. In 24 hours, the winning car will cover approximately 4,000 kms! That’s like driving from Toronto to Vancouver! Drivers from all over the world are there, and Canada is usually represented. Typically, there are 50+ cars entered.
On the Thursday, there is qualifying. It’s a great time to meet drivers. You can to get autographs & pictures. All of the drivers are obliging. I’ve met actor/racer, Patrick “McDreamy” Dempsey; 5-time Rolex24 winner, Scott Pruett; retired Rolex24 winner/now Cadillac prototype owner, Wayne Taylor; ex-F1/Indy driver Max Papis; & 3-time Indy 500 winner, Johnny Rutherford, to name a few.
On the Friday, there’s the 3-hour Continental Cup endurance race. Markham’s Multimatic Team’s Mustang has won a few times. There are 2 classes, featuring production cars such as: Ford Mustangs; Porsche 911s; Mazda Miatas; etc. Each team usually has 2 drivers. This field usually has 60+ cars, too!
The twice-around-the-clock race starts mid-afternoon on the Saturday. Fox Sports Racing TV covers most of the 24 hours. They have excellent commentators. Many are retired endurance racers.
We move around to various spectator spots. Our ritual is to ride the infield Ferris wheel on Saturday night, after sunset. The engines which aren’t that noisy during the day … seem much louder at night. You can see the race cars’ brake rotors glowing orange, which is really neat to see! The scoreboards keep you informed of positions. Even the cars have coloured LED lights, showing their position & respective classes. There used to be a Party Patio, on the back straight. This was a great spot to see the cars braking & downshifting, for the “bus stop chicane.” Usually by 10 p.m. we’re exhausted. We walk a lot! Time to head back to the hotel, & watch the race for another hour, on TV. My one buddy is a freelance photographer. He is usually joined by other buddies, to return to the track around 3 a.m. until sunrise. After breakfast, we return around 10 a.m. We’ll have lunch at the track, & stay until the finish. Warning: they close all concessions 30 minutes after the race.
In my time there, I saw the Brumos Porsche win in ‘09, only to be 6 lbs. under the legal weight. Their penalty was a measly $1,900. And they kept the win. One year, 1st & 2nd overall, were only about 1 second apart. May I remind you, that’s after 24 hours, 4,000+ kms and 700+ laps! Now that’s close competition! After 24 hours, the once pristine cars are now filthy. The front clip looks sandblasted.
All 5 of my trips were great because of my friends, & the racing! The trips were great value. Consider the price of 3 hour, stick ‘n ball pro sports.
Need a break? Head to the Rolex24 @ Daytona, or the 12 Hours of Sebring (Florida), in March. Dress warm, as Central Florida is cool (low teens Celsius average) in late January. One year we were chilled to the bone.
Written & Photos by Larry Barnett