Daytona 500 timeline: Race is 50 years oldSpecial to the Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
Special to the Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
The business side of Daytona has grown right along with the popularity of the 500:
• 1959: Lee Petty wins the inaugural Daytona 500 in a finish so close it takes three days to determine the champion. For those three days, though, the Daytona 500 dominates the news, and the race itself becomes the unwitting beneficiary of the controversial finish. Eleven of the 59 cars in the field have sponsorship, including businesses named Honest Charley, Shorty’s, Idlewild Homes and Delta Auto Sales. Tickets to the inaugural event go for $5.
• 1966: Attendance jumps from 58,682 in 1965 to 90,000 in 1966. Attendance has never again fallen below 90,000. (Current track officials say expansion details are cloudy through the 1960s, so they could not provide specifics on expansion projects.)
• 1969: Attendance cracks the 100,000 mark as 101,800 pack the speedway for the 500.
• 1980: The Daytona 500 ups the ante by offering its first $1 million purse.
• Late 1980s: The speedway builds the Winston Tower, five levels of upgraded seats and suites with a view clear to the Atlantic Ocean.
• 1991-93: For the first time, the track sells a presenting sponsorship for the Daytona 500. The event is known as the Daytona 500 by STP, partof a three-year sponsorship agreement.
• 1994: The number of grandstand seats grows to more than 100,000 in the first year of track president John Graham’s administration. During Graham’s tenure from 1994 to 2001, the speedway expands its seating to 167,800, where it remains today. From 1996 to 2000, during the heart of NASCAR’s popularity growth, grandstand seating booms by 33.6 percent.
• Mid-1990s: For 30 years, fans park right behind the grandstands at the speedway. That begins to change through the mid-1990s as Daytona creates more areas for corporate hospitality. Now the speedway offers multiple hospitality villages all around the track.
• 2001: The first $10 million Daytona 500 is held, pushing the event past the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis as the best-paying NASCAR Cup race, a title it still holds.
• 2001: Dale Earnhardt, the sport’s greatest star, dies in a last-lap crash. Even years after his death, Earnhardt’s merchandise remains among the best-selling licensed goods in the sport.
• 2007: The track sells title sponsorship to Speedweeks for the first time in its history. DirecTV, which also introduces its subscription-only HotPass package at the 500, buys the title rights as part of a three-year deal valued in the low seven figures annually.
• 2007: ISC and the Cordish Co. announce plans to build Daytona Live!, a $250 million mixed-use development on 71 acres across from the speedway. It will include condominiums, townhomes, 200,000 square feet of retail and dining, a 2,500-seat multiscreen theater and a 160-room hotel. NASCAR and ISC offices also will be housed in the development, which is expected to open in 2009.
• 2008: The 50th running of the Daytona 500.