The 2023 Daytona 500 marked the 65th running of the Great American Race, and the electricity was palpable hours prior to the green flag for the iconic event.
A sold-out crowd meant intense traffic outside of the facility, but the traffic was well worth it for the ultimate payoff of the incredible atmosphere.
If you’ve never been to the Daytona International Speedway, and specifically, the Daytona 500, you need to seriously look at what it’ll take to change that in 2024. The facility is state-of-the-art as far as race tracks are concerned, and I’ll break down some of the amenities that I experienced during the race weekend.
Down the midway, outside of the 2.5-mile superspeedway, the merchandise haulers lined up and they were absolutely filled up with clothing, diecast cars, decals, and any other souvenir you could imagine. Whether you were a Bubba Wallace fan, a Chase Elliott fan, or even a Kyle Busch fan, there was a trailer there for you to buy gear in order to showcase your support of your favorite racer.
Speaking of Busch, the surprising thing that I noticed early Sunday morning was the impressive amount of Busch merchandise on-site at Daytona. While Busch has a persona of being a lightning rod in the sport, the people who like the two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion REALLY like him, and they travel well. Much like in the National Football League, when Pittsburgh Steelers fans make the trek to basically any venue to support their team.
It was a really cool sight to see.
From there, I made my way into the infield, where I saw some incredible things. Sponsors were engaging with Fans in the infield through their at-track activations. One of the most engaging areas that I noticed was the big red Wendy’s square area, which was equipped with a next Gen show car, and piles of free chicken nuggets to give away to hungry, happy, and some quite drunk NASCAR Fans.
After partaking in the goodness that was the Wendy’s display, I walked into the UNOH Fan Zone. To put it mildly, the UNOH Fan Zone, is a majestic place where race fans are transported from simply attending a NASCAR race, and are plopped down in the heart of the event.
The Fan Zone features an incredible interactive NASCAR Cup Series garage area, which has glassed windows outside each garage stall, which allows fans without garage pass access to keep up with what teams are doing to prepare their Daytona 500 race cars. Each garage stall is clearly marked with a driver’s car number, name and the team that the driver runs for.
It’s impossible to miss whoever you’re looking for.
If you want to take to higher ground, in order to check out different vantage points to catch on-track activity, you can climb the stairs to the top of the Fan Zone platform.
From atop the platform, there are great views all the way around the race track, and you can even look down on cars exiting the NASCAR Cup Series garage on their path to the race track. The area is nice and spacious. And it’s a great place to meet up with other fans at the track.
When I moved my way back down the stairs from the Fan Zone platform, I saw the incredible engagement of vendors, and fans having a good time. The heart of the Fan Zone is the incredible food court. In addition to a main food vendor, are several food trucks and an entire Busch Light-sponsored bar and live performance stage set up. It’s truly an astonishing sight.
If you happened to miss the midway souvenir area, or plan to remain inside the UNOH Fan Zone for the entire weekend, no worries! There is a massive air-conditioned tent inside the Fan Zone, which is packed with merchandise.
Daytona 500 gear, NASCAR gear, and just about every current Lionel diecast that has been produced were housed in the impressive shopping location. There was quite a selection of goods.
While the amenities are a major perk, there is also the fun fact that the Daytona 500 is one of the most attended races of the year by celebrities.
This year, Comedian Tiffany Haddish who has made a huge career after her successful movie Girl Trip in 2017 would wave the Green flag. She was on the grounds, and I’m sure some folks had a chance to speak to her during the race weekend.
NASCAR, which has made strides in becoming a more welcoming and diverse sport in the past few years, had a lot of Black Culture featured during the weekend’s festivities.
While some on social media questioned who Breland was and wondered why a more well-known performer wasn’t selected for the National Anthem heading into the weekend, Breland laid down an incredible performance of the iconic anthem.
Breland, who did sing the National Anthem in 2021 at the Spring race at Atlanta Motor Speedway said that he was excited, but “Nervous” to sing for Sunday’s 500.
Nervous or not, the man got after it.
Bethune-Cookman University, a historic HBCU, would have its marching band perform as well.
Retired NFL athlete, and IAMATHLETE podcast host, Brandon Marshall was in attendance as well. I spoke to Marshall about why he wanted to come to the Daytona 500, and he told me on Sunday that he wanted to, “show some love,” to the 23XI Racing crew, and Bubba Wallace before the race.
WWE Superstar Charlotte Flair was also in attendance. Flair actually made the pre-race broadcast as she was spotted talking with NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series competitor Norm Benning. Flair credited her Brother Reid with her even thinking about entering the world of wrestling and even got a question regarding a potential purchase of WWE.
As Breland finished his rendition of the National Anthem, fans were treated to what amounted to an air show, essentially, as the United States Air Force Thunderbirds put on an incredible show!
Following the electric pre-race festivities, there was nothing left to do but race. And boy, oh, boy was the race incredible.
52 lead changes, over half of the field led during the day.
In the closing laps, it looked like Kyle Busch would finally break through for his first-career Daytona 500 victory, then a caution with two laps to go for a spinning Daniel Suarez ruined it all for Busch.
At the end of a couple of chaotic overtime finish attempts, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. shocked the world and became the latest driver to hoist the Harley J. Early trophy.