Just a few short days after the DAYTONA 500 and two weeks before the 75th anniversary of the DAYTONA 200, Joie Chitwood III, President of Daytona International Speedway, slowed down long enough to share his perspective of the two-and-half-year ‘reimagining’ project known as DAYTONA Rising.
Completed in time for the DAYTONA 500 on February 21, Chitwood addressed the Daytona Advertising Federation at its “Lunch Break” on February 25 and acknowledged, “I’m still shaking off the cobwebs a little after opening the new stadium” now dubbed the “World’s First Motorsports Stadium.”
“If there’s one thing I’m most proud of it was our attention to detail. Yes, we can talk about a $400 million dollar stadium, mile long 101,000 seats, but there were some elements that we really did a great job on. Whether it was on the ticketing side or nuances on the property, I really like the way we used our Daytona International Speedway flags. I see them embedded almost like Disney ears around the property.”
Regarding the philosophy behind extra-large wayfinding signage, Chitwood said, “If you come to us with any idea that’s not big and bold then move on. DAYTONA has to be big and bold. That’s who we are. We have to live that every day.” Particularly pleased with the color palette – including the contrasting neutral signage – he also elaborated on how well Florida Hospital stands out against Chevrolet, Toyota and Sunoco brands.
Local hospital stands out among big brands
“These big brands are involved in motorsports. They have different content. The Florida Hospital injector and the approach was very innovative and very bold.” The Toyota injector has Kyle Busch’s replica championship winning car, Chevrolet has Corvettes designed by Jimmie Johnson, but “when you get to Florida Hospital, you have this LED canopy that changes seasons. You have this creation theme, then you have the area where there are videos…I have to tell you, more people I walked through with were just blown away by the concept. It was a great departure from the bigger brands that are these physical things.”
“We created an opportunity (by working with St. John & Partners out of Jacksonville) where we monitor real time tickets sales and we can adjust our social spend or our digital spend on the fly. We see real results. That’s something that no one else in our company had done before. So we can really justify how we’re spending dollars.”
Imagining new creative
Chitwood explained the different approach created by Jump, a “small ad agency with the audacity to think big.” Jump did all the creative, including the Daytona Rising logo. An artistic photographer was also brought in to shoot the stadium, “so we promoted the stadium as much as we promoted the drivers.” Typically, Chitwood said, the focus would be on the champions of the sport: who’s won, whether it’s Junior, whether it’s Richard Petty… “But now, it’s really about those legends who made their name and now we have a stadium to go with it.” The campaign hit the market after the 2015 Coke Zero event, which was earlier than usual and then a larger campaign was launched in the fall.
Hitting the mark
“The team lived and breathed this for two and a half years. It was back breaking. It was a project that was unbelievable.” When you think about the job the racing teams have, said Chitwood, you also need to consider they will be functioning while the new stadium is opening up. “How do we really hit the mark the right way? It was pretty awesome.”
"Can I be part of something historic?"
“We always talk about what it’s like to be in the middle of something special. Yes, it’s stressful, sleepless nights, people are complaining about things they shouldn’t be complaining about. But at the end of the day you take that chance. We all go through our careers saying ‘Can I be part of something historic, something unique, something challenging?’ And there’s risk with it. But at the end of the day, isn’t that why we’re in the business in the first place? We want to make a difference. We want to do something pretty special.”
A word of advice
“If anyone offers you the opportunity to construct a venue while you’re operating it, I would politely decline,” he said, summoning laughter from the group. “2015 was the toughest year I ever had professionally. In theory it sounds like you can manage it, you can communicate the whole plan...The long lead time and to understand how we communicate to the customer, how we sell tickets, it was unbelievable.”
Of course, it rained
“And, of course, we had rain. That Sunday night, because NBC wanted to move the race to Sunday night, it was just one of those deep, dark moments in your professional career where you say I’m not sure I picked the right career,” said Chitwood, drawing another round of laughter from the group.
Drinking the Kool Aid
“Thinking about this group and what you do, I think we did something that no one else has ever done. We built a stadium. No one else has ever done that in motorsports, so that is truly a claim. But I want to throw this one at you. I don’t know if people look at it the way we look at it. Is there any other construction project on a sports property that creates its own brand and logo just for the construction? DAYTONA Rising was created just for a construction project. That attention to detail, taking it to that level...it caught on. All the media, everybody referred to it. They talked about it. It was really cool when you think about it. Again that attention to detail. Luckily I have some folks who drink the Kool Aid with us. They get it, that detail is very special. And we’re going to make sure that we represent that to the fans, sponsors, the VIPs how unique and special it is.”
Unwavering France Family
“From day one, the family was behind it. They never wavered ...They were in the boat with us. They knew it was going to be special. They gave us support every step of the way. For those of you who have been involved in big projects, sometimes that’s not the case. People waver.”
He also expressed the family’s enthusiasm for ONE DAYTONA, a $120-$150 million retail, dining and entertainment project. “It’s another great way to change the front door to our community…It gives us another tool in the arsenal to make sure Daytona is unique and special.”
“I’ve never seen a 10-day weather forecast as good. And I never saw 10 days of weather that matched a 10-day forecast. There are two sides to that coin because that forecast does get you that last amount of ticket sales. The build up and energy on Sunday morning knowing we have a picture-perfect Chamber of Commerce day… When you have that and you get that kind of mojo going on, then that concert sounds a little bit better, then that driver intro is a little more cool, then that Thunderbird fly over just blows you away because of something a little bit extra . Then who knew we’d get the closest finish in the Daytona 500?”
“It was truly a historic day. We opened up a venue we never thought we would do in the first place. It was historic for what it was. We gave the fans a phenomenal experience. Then to finish it off with a checkered flag for the ages. You walk away from that going, ‘Man we are lucky.’ Thank goodness it all aligned because there are things you can’t control. But when they come your way it just takes that experience to the next level.”
"Why would anyone pay money to watch taxi cabs race on highbanks?"
When asked, “What is the significance with DAYTONA Rising and then Streamline Hotel coming back to tell the original story of NASCAR?” Chitwood said, “You have to be respectful about where you come from. When you think about what Big Bill did. Whether it was create NASCAR in the lobby, whether it was building Daytona International Speedway…
Here’s how I look at this:
“In the late 50s Big Bill wanted to build Daytona International Speedway. Racing on the beach was very successful. People would ask him, ‘Why would you do that? You’re gonna screw something up. It makes no sense.’ His grandfather even told him, ‘Why would anyone pay money to watch taxi cabs race on high banks?’ NASCAR was not a popular motorsport back then. So he took a risk and we all know what it takes to build something: bricks, mortar, determination, vision and imagination. He imagined something bigger and more exciting than anything built to date. Imagination fuels desire. Desire is what gets you past the naysayers.
“I think we’re able to do that through this project. We reimagined. That was our tagline. Daytona Rising, reimagining an American icon. We have to walk in those footsteps. But as I’m telling you this story, I’m referencing where we came from. What did Bill do and, in essence, we took his approach. Do we have to be modern and progressive and new? Absolutely. If you’re not innovating, you better be renovating. If you’re not doing either, you’re going to go to last place. The whole goal is we’re not just a stadium. We’re a stadium built upon the foundation of legends. Can’t forget what they did and we have to take the next step to live up to the legacy. We’re living up to Big Bill’s legacy and I think we did it in a modern, progressive way. In fact there’s a quote from Jim France that said, ‘My dad wouldn’t say it this way, but I think he’d say it was cool.’ When Jim said that, bingo! That’s exactly what we’re hoping for. That Big Bill would understand that we did something he did, which was progressive and new.”
“We do the best job leveraging everything. Whether it’s through our social, whether it’s through our jumbotron, through our creative, we’re always telling people what’s next and where we’re going.”
Chitwood elaborated on two new ticketed events:
Chitwood said that after the Daytona 500, people are amazed at what Daytona International Speedway can do. “We’re going to start knocking on some doors to see what’s out there. Watch out! Who knows what we can do?”