The fan experience during the Rolex 24 at Daytona Int’l Speedway Jan. 25-26 will be as unique as the race itself.
The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is one of the few series whose biggest race of the year is its season opener.
The race is brutal. Pushing people and high-performance parts to the limit for 24 hours is difficult, and even the fans have to come up with a plan to follow the action.
Seeing which teams survived the long night and are still running well at daybreak is part of the equation.
The weather often involves rain, which further complicates the challenge.
The addition of superstars from divisions such as the NTT IndyCar Series and NASCAR adds to the allure and increases the fan base.
“This year, Kyle Busch is going to drive in the Rolex 24 and that’s exciting for us,” noted DIS President Chip Wile. “Fans can get autographs of Kyle and other big stars of the sport at the full-field autograph session before the start of the race on Saturday.”
Most of the fans at Daytona are well versed in sports car racing, know the highlights of the race’s history and respect what it takes to win there.
Fans following on live TV, switch between different channels as the schedule demands, while others prefer the IMSA Radio broadcasts. Most will follow live timing and scoring.
Social media will be abuzz with fans following IMSA, the track, teams, manufacturers and drivers.
Manufacturers play a key role in the series and some fans concentrate on a particular marque.
Others follow a favorite driver. After deducing when he or she will be behind the wheel, they’ll arrange their schedules to follow the race closely during those drivers’ stints.
Fans must decide whether to stay up all 24 hours, catch occasional naps, stay up late or get up early. As well, many fans stay on site in motorhomes or tents, while some commute back and forth to local hotels.
Many attending the race will wander to the different viewing areas or grandstands, while others hang out in the paddock.
“Fans don’t have to know someone to get into the garage area,” noted Emily Nash, senior manager, track marketing and promotions for IMSA. “Walk-in infield access and access to the UNOH Fanzone is included with an infield admission ticket and you can get that upgraded to include access to the garage area by buying a wristband through the speedway website. Children 12 and under are free. Fans can park in the parking lots outside of the track and get shuttled in.
“Merchandise is available in the fanzone and that’s where the Budweiser Bistro is, so there is food and drink available,” Nash added. “The fanzone also has a huge Jumbotron.”
The fanzone is also the site of an autograph session on Saturday before the race starts. It is open to everyone with drivers situated at tables located in front of the garage windows. In that same area, historic race cars will be displayed.
After the autograph session and before the start of the race, there is a grid walk that is wall-to-wall people.
“We’ll introduce all the cars and drivers then,” Nash explained. “The prototypes will do a procession with a marching band. Fans can get up close and personal like they often can’t at other events.”
There is a midway in the infield that includes a Ferris wheel. “It’s really a family affair,” Wile said.
There are booths for various manufacturers too, and many fans spend time shopping.
“The midway displays have really become a staple of the Rolex 24,” Wile said. “Manufacturers go all out and fans can see prototypes and other vehicles they’ll see later on the race track.”
Saturday night during the race there is also a fireworks show. “It’s usually between 9 and 10 p.m., depending on the broadcast scheduling,” Nash said.
“Daytona also does a 5k on the track on Saturday morning,” she noted.
“That 5K is a neat way to start the day,” Wile elaborated. “I’ve done it the last few years. It usually starts around 7 a.m. You watch the sun rise and you get to run around the road course that will be used for the Rolex 24 later that day.”
After the race, the overall winning car is on display at the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America on the speedway grounds.
“That’s open daily, and a tour of the track is included in the admission,” Wile added. “We’ll take the overall winning car from tech and have it on display until we give it back to the team right before the start of the 2020 Daytona 500.”