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One of the marquee events on the motorsports calendar, the Rolex 24 At Daytona draws fans from every corner of the globe to Daytona International Speedway.
Of course, the last 12 months have been as abnormal as any in recent memory due to the COVID-19 pandemic, thus resulting in an altered experience for those involved and those in attendance.
Last month, Daytona International Speedway officials confirmed the facility would host a “limited” number of fans for Rolex 24 festivities.
Chip Wile, the Speedway’s president, did not disclose specific expected figures for the upcoming race and this weekend’s Roar Before the 24 but said they would abide with guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We know, by area, how many people we can safely accommodate,” he said. “We don’t have a number, specifically, in mind — just making sure we’re managing capacity by area.”
An estimated crowd of 25,000 fans attended the Coke Zero Sugar 400 on Aug. 29.
“We’ve gotten pretty good at managing big crowds using our social distancing tactics and implementing our protocols,” Wile said. “We’ll have more of the same when fans come to the Rolex 24 next weekend.”
Those in attendance will be required to wear face coverings at all times, Wile said, and undergo temperature screenings upon arrival.
Despite the reduced capacity, infield bleachers and frontstretch venue seating will continue to be general admission but with 6 feet of social distancing enforced between parties.
Markers will be placed on the infield bleachers to identify where fans can sit, and in standing-room-only areas along the road course fencelines.
While fans will be permitted to enter the Speedway, several areas will be restricted — including the garages, paddock and pit road. The grid walk and ballfield access will also be closed to fans during pre-race activities.
Retired financial adviser Charles Matousek, 67 of Enterprise, has attended just about every 24-hour race at Daytona since 1979. He’ll bring his 6-year-old grandson, flying in from Kansas City, as a late birthday gift this time around.
He’s confident in the Speedway’s safety procedures, but slightly dejected the garages will not be open for patrons.
“When you see the cars come off the track and up that close, it’s like NASA from a technology standpoint,” Matousek said.
“My girlfriend and I went to Epcot two weeks ago, and I compare Disney and the NASCAR/Speedway folks similarly — they are, frankly, experts at moving people and handling crowds. The July 4 (IMSA) race was very well organized and managed, and I know it will be even better this time, if that’s possible. They know how to get it done.”
Along with those experiences, infield tent camping, infield car camping, GEICO Park west tent camping and Café 24 breakfast has also been canceled.
RV camping, however, is permitted albeit reduced to six people per site. Additionally, RVs must be self-contained with toilets and other amenities since the shower facilities will remain closed.
“We hate that we aren’t going to be able to have those garage experiences and those interactions with the drivers. They’re such an important part of the (fan) experience,” Wile said. “At the same time, we’re actually getting to run the race.”
That is certainly one welcome bit of familiarity — cars on the track, and lots of them this time around.
Fifty cars have been entered into the Roar Before the Rolex 24, IMSA announced last week. Only 39 teams made the trip to Daytona last season.
Notable drivers include seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, paricipating for the first time since 2011, defending NASCAR champion Chase Elliott in his Rolex 24 debut and former Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon.
Stars of the Rolex 24: Entry list for the Roar Before the Rolex reveals driving teams
Elliott and Johnson will race in the top-tier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class.
“The Rolex 24 is such a major event, and it’s a race that anybody across any type of motorsports really respects. I think everyone wants to win a (Rolex) watch before their career is over,” Elliott said in a release.
Wile ensures that a handful of fan-favorite activities are still on as planned. The Ferris wheel, which gives patrons a view of the 2.5-mile tri-oval from 150 feet in the air, will spin throughout the weekend. Tickets are still available for the Taste of the 24, a dining event hosted in the Midway Suites at 6 p.m. on Jan. 30.
“Obviously, our primary concern anytime anybody comes onto the property is their safety,” Wile said. “We want to make sure that we keep people safe, but also that they have a great time while they’re here.”