Competitors and fans attending events at Daytona International Speedwaythis season will hardly recognize the place after a multi-million dollarinfield renovation totally changed the look of the famed raceway. To saythe Daytona infield has undergone a major transformation is a hugeunderstatement. What once was an odd collection of timeworn,weather-beaten garages and administration buildings is now a sparklingracer- and fan-friendly complex worthy of the title "World Center ofSpeed."

The entire infield has been ergonomically re-engineered to enhance theflow of race and fan traffic. Gone are cramped, dank cement block CupSeries garages; they are replaced by sparkling and spacious new ones.The open-sided canopies that served the Busch Series garage have beendemolished and replaced with new enclosed garages. A new, long overdueinfield access tunnel accommodating race rigs and fan foot traffic,along with new specialty vehicle parking areas, scoring pylons andexpansion of the existing media center have all been completed as partof the project.

There is a winding promenade Fan Zone, complete with rooftop viewing ofthe new Cup and Busch garage areas. Even Victory Lane has been updatedand expanded, allowing fans to be part of the Victory Celebration.

In short, the improvements, while long overdue, are breathtaking.

Not that Daytona International Speedway hasn't always made your heartbeat a little faster. The brainchild of NASCAR founder Bill France, DISwas a dream that became reality in 1959. Feeling the crunch of communityexpansion, France had relocated the famed Daytona "Beach & Road Course"three times by the early '50s. The construction and success ofDarlington (SC) Raceway in 1950 also showed the NASCAR pioneer that ifthe sport was to continue to thrive in Daytona, it needed a permanentfacility.

Few shared France's vision of a track to rival the Indianapolis MotorSpeedway, especially those France tried to convince to invest in theproject. The proposed track, a 2- to 5-mile, high-banked, D-shaped oval,was unlike anything in motorsports at the time. Even the racers whowould eventually compete on the track had reservations about theproject, many of them calling it "France's Folly."

Determined, France pushed on with the project and in 1957 signed a leasewith the Daytona Beach Racing and Recreations Facilities District for500 acres of cypress swamp land near the old World War II Naval Stationwest of the city. Seed money for the project--$35,000--came from ClintMurchison, a Texas oilman who would later found the Dallas Cowboys.

France hired a civil engineer, Charles Moneypenny, to bring hissuperspeedway vision to life. To create the footings for the 31-degreebanking in the turns, Moneypenny had construction crews excavatemillions of tons of soil from the track's infield. The result was alake, covering 44 acres, springing from the low water table area.France, in honor of Sax Lloyd, the first man to give him a job when hemoved to Florida in 1934, named the waterway Lake Lloyd. The body ofwater, which lost about 15 acres to this off-season's infieldrenovation, is still one of the raceway's most unique features.

Creating the steep inclines of the track's turns proved to be achallenge for Moneypenny, who eventually solved the problem byconnecting the paving equipment to bulldozers anchored to the top of thebanking. The solution produced ultra-smooth, flat turns that wouldeventually provide the high-speed, side-by-side racing Daytona is famousfor.

With the 3,000-foot backstretch and the 3,800-foot, 18-degree banked"dogleg" frontstretch and 10,000-seat grandstand completed, Franceopened Daytona International Speedway in 1959. Final cost of theproject--approximately $1.6 million.