"Two weeks out of the event, that trips our countdown clock," Daytona International Speedway president Joie Chitwood III says, as the facility readies for the July 2 Coke Zero 400.
The grass is getting a final manicure. Hospitality tents are popping up around the track. Temporary employees are receiving training and getting their assignments. Event signs are going up. Suites are being readied for guests.
"This is where it gets intense," Chitwood said. "This is when we do our final preparations. Things are getting pretty frantic."
The Speedway's recent media promotions with drivers Brian Vickers, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman have sparked ticket sales, Chitwood said, without revealing any specific numbers. Newman even took a ticket order over the phone during his visit Tuesday.
"It's the best thing we do to promote the event," Chitwood said. "Any chance to get a driver in your market personalizes the sport.
"I have been pleased with our ticket sales over the last two weeks," he continued. "We've had a nice run-up. We got the spike we were waiting for."
Hotels, meanwhile, are reporting strong reservations for the race but are disappointed that more race fans won't stay through the long weekend.
Chris Fagan, general manager of Ramada Speedway, said he expects many of his reservations to come in at the last minute because customers have learned to wait for the best deals.
"We're about three-fourths of the way (full)," he said. "We'll go up, but it'll only be two nights, Friday and Saturday, not as good as the previous year."
He said he thought hotels on the beach might be doing better for the entire long weekend.
Susan Keaveney, the marketing manager for the Shores Resort & Spa in Daytona Beach Shores, said it's actually similar at her hotel. She anticipates the race days being sold out but most fans leave after the race on Saturday.
The hotel has put together a package for visitors interested in only staying Sunday night through Monday, which includes late checkout on Monday at 6 p.m. and a reduced rate for Sunday night.
In addition to the Sprint Cup Series race, the Speedway has turned the event into a holiday celebration, which includes an extended prerace concert by Martina McBride, a visit by four Medal of Honor Award winners and a thunderous fireworks show that involves 10,000 pounds of spark powder.
The Speedway will monitor developments of the recent wildfires and smoke. The 1998 Coke Zero 400 was postponed in much worse conditions. The Speedway became a staging area for firefighters that year.
"Right now, it's nothing like what happened in this area in 1998," Chitwood said. "If it gets a lot worse, we'll figure out what we need to do. If anything pops up in the week, we will react accordingly."
The track opens Thursday for a day of practice, followed by qualifying rounds and a Nationwide Series race on the night of July 1. The 400 has the stage July 2.
"I'm pleased with our preparations," Chitwood said. "I'm very happy with the lineup we have for Saturday night and I think we'll have a great event." - by godwin kelly - Business writer Hilary Lehman contributed to this report. - www.news-journalonline.com