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Proper advance prep makes for a great day at the Daytona International Speedway

Proper advance prep makes for a great day at the Daytona International Speedway

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"Gentlemen, start your engines!"

This weekend's Rolex 24 kicks off a full four weeks of high-speed fun over at the Daytona International Speedway. After the 50th anniversary running of this international sportscar competition, this 480-acre complex then becomes home to such highly anticipated racing events as the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200, the Budweiser Shootout, the Gatorade Duel, the NextEra Energy Resources 250, the Drive4CPOD 300  and - of course, the big daddy of them all - the Daytona 500.

If you're thinking of heading over to Daytona Beach this year to experience some Speedweeks 2012 events ... Well, you may want to follow the example of the pit crews who actually work at this track. In that - as they load up their tractor-trailer full of equipment for the long drive down to Daytona - these racing veterans always try & strike a weird balance between bringing along every single thing that they'll need in case of emergency while at the same time trying to travel light.

And speaking of traveling ... The very first thing that you should do before driving on over to the Daytona International Speedway is fill up your gas tank. You don't want to ruin what had already been a fun day at the races by finding yourself caught in one of those post-race traffic jams with a gas gauge that's perilously close to "E." So do like all of the experienced race fans do and make a point of fueling up before you head over to the Speedway.

And while you're fueling up, make a point of stocking up as well. Here are some absolute essentials that you must have on hand if you're looking to have a safe, comfortable & memorable day at the Speedway:

  • Water. You're going to want to make sure that you stay hydrated. So bring lots & lots of water along
  • Snacks
  • Sunscreen
  • Extra Batteries & memory cards for your camera
  • A Sharpie. You never know when you may run into your favorite drive and then have the chance to get his or her autograph
  • A seat cushion. Especially if you're planning on spending the day sitting up there in those sometimes cold, often hard aluminum Grandstands
  • A pair of binoculars
  • Clorox Wipes. There will be over 150,000 people also making use of the Speedway's porta-potties. You get the idea, right?

There are two other items that you should definitely pick up before you head out for the track. One is a scanner (which will allow you to follow what's actually going on over the course of the race) and the other is a set of headphones. That set of headphones is absolutely essential because - to be blunt - it gets loud at the Daytona International Speedway. Really, really loud. And the only way to protect your hearing (not to mention hear what's being said on your scanner) is by wearing that set of headphones.

Now to tote all of these items, I recommend that you get yourself a clear, see-through backpack. Which will make it that much easier for you to quickly get through that Security bag check at each of the admission gates.

Now you may be thinking about bringing along a cooler along with you to store your water and/or other beverages in. If so, you need be aware that the Daytona International Speedway recently placed new restrictions on the size & types of these sorts of containers which it's now going to allow race patrons to bring into this venue. And if your cooler is hard sided and/or bigger than 14 x 14 x 14 inches (i.e. 2700 cubic inches), you'll be forced to leave it behind as you pass through a grandstand gate.

Okay. We've talked about what you need to bring with. Now let's discuss how you should dress to spend the day at Daytona. First and foremost, wear comfortable shoes. Given that you may wind up parking two or three miles away from the Speedway itself and then have to hike over to the venue, sandals and heels are just not an option here.

And while you're at it, ladies, ditch the purse. Remember that your goal for today is travel light, have fun and play safe. So just stuff your cash, your credit card and your cell phone in a fanny pack, okay?

And speaking of playing it safe ... Given that people have been known to swoon from the heat at an event like this, make sure to put ICE (as in: Your "In Case of Emergency, please contact this person" info) on your cell phone. The paramedics will know just where to find this information on your phone. And that will then make it that much easier for you to get all of the help & support you need, should you find yourself medically incapacitated and unable to contact friends & family during your day at the races.

Of course, the very best way to avoid any heat-related problems is to dress properly. And given that the grandstands at the Daytona International Speedway are infamous for their extremes (i.e. cold & breezy during the winter months, broiling during the late Spring / early Summer), it's wise to dress in layers. So that you can bundle up if it's a really cool day at the track and/or shed a sweatshirt or coat if the temperature start to rise.

And given that - no matter how hot or how cold the day actually gets - you're still going to be sitting in that strong Florida sun for hours at a time, you really need to wear a hat to shield your face and/or prevent a sunburn. Just not too big a hat. Because - of course - you don't want to block the view of the person seated behind you at the race.

Okay. Now that you're properly dressed and got just the right amount of gear, it's time to head out of the Daytona International Speedway. Just make sure that you allow for traffic when deciding on the right time to leave for the race. More importantly, make a point of remembering where you parked your car.

This is also a very smart thing to do once you get up in the grandstands. Given that it's relatively easy to get turned around at a venue of this size and that race fans tend to dress alike, take a moment to note the row number & section that you're seated in before you head off to the restrooms and/or go out to get some snacks. That way, it'll be that much easier to find your way back.

Fans crowd pit road during driver introductions prior to yesterday's start of the Grand-Am
Rolex 24 auto race at Daytona International Speedway.

Beyond that, the only other tip that I can offer Daytona newbies is that - if you didn't bring any food or drink along with you when you entered this venue - the very best time to head off to the concession stands is during the race. If you're going to try and get something to eat & drink before or after the race or during a caution, the lines just get ridiculously long.

Oh, and one final thing. When you're souvenir-shopping at the Daytona International Speedway (And trust me on this one, folks. You're going to be sorely tempted to purchase something. Given all of the amazing merch that will be on display come Race Day), you should always take into consideration the size & the weight of the item that you're thinking of buying. After all - once you buy this thing - you'll then have to haul it back to your seat in the grandstands (and potentially blocking the view of the person seated behind you) and/or carry this item all the way back to wherever it is that you parked the car.

That - in the end - is kind of the key to having a great day at the Speedway. Be respectful of not only the other members of your party but also all of the other race fans around you. Always keep in mind that there are (at times) over 150,000 other people who are also trying to have a memorable time at the race. So while you may hit a few speed bumps / experience a few hiccups along the along, if you're patient (and keep your sense of humor about you), you're sure to have a truly amazing time during your day at Daytona.

So have you got everything that I've listed in the above article? Everything BUT your Daytona 500 and Daytona 300 tickets? Well, I think I know a few folks who can help you out with that.

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