You don’t have to be a rabid car racing buff to be among the 200,000 spectators who attend the Daytona 500, but it helps.
“A lot of our folks are real diehards,” said Lenny Santiago, spokesman for Daytona International Speedway. “They plan their vacations around the race. Some even spend 10 days here.”
The Daytona race is the single biggest spectator event in Florida, but whether one has a passion for antique or modern cars, for auto racing or simply enjoy being with like-minded fans, this state is a great place for car lovers. Florida is home to several major automobile race tracks, offers almost a dozen museums showcasing classic cars, stages two prestigious annual Concours d’Elegance (an upscale vintage car exhibit/auction) and is the site of parades and special exhibits featuring antique vehicles.
With so much variety — and good weather year-round — it’s not surprising that Florida ranks among the top states, including California, for automobile aficiandos, said Ken Breslauer, spokesman for Sebring International Speedway.
Within the state are dozens of race tracks, of which 21 are paved ovals and road courses. Three of these host races of national renown. Biggest is the annual Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway, which will be held next year on Feb. 24. Also nationally known is the annual 12 Hours of Sebring, the biggest sports car race in the nation. Held annually at the Sebring International Speedway, that race next goes off March 16.
Locally, two major races are conducted at the Homestead Miami Speedway. Coming up Nov. 16-18 is its top competition, the Ford Championships Weekend, and in spring the track will host the Grand Prix of Miami on its road course.
Of high interest to serious automobile fans is the Concours d’Elegance held annually in Amelia Island. The 18th annual event, expected to attract 300 cars, is set for March 8-10. It includes road rallies, auctions and seminars. Almost 300 classic production and race cars will be on view during the event, which takes place on the 10th and 18th fairways of The Golf Club at Amelia Island.
Next year’s Amelia Concours will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Porsche 911, as well as the golden anniversary of Ford’s iconic GT40, winner of the 24 Hours of LeMans for 1966 to 1969. www.ameliaconcours.org.
Another Concours d’Elegance, the 11th annual, will be held Nov. 11 in Winter Park. Last year, it attracted 70,000 attendees. This year it will specially feature Porsche and Lincoln cars in what executive director Tim Webber calls the “art of the automobile.” More than 170 automobiles will be on display. www.winterparkconcours.com.
Auto buffs may also want to visit Ormond Beach, known as the Birthplace of Speed. It was here on the hard beach sands, early in the 19th century, that such racing greats as Ransom E. Olds, Barney Oldfield, Eddie Rickenbacker and Sir Malcolm Campbell set early speed records.
Races are no longer held in Ormond Beach, but every year it stages a Birthplace of Speed gaslit parade on Friday night after Thanksgiving with up to 300 vintage cars taking part. On Saturday, a exhibition of around 150 cars is held in Fortunato Park. An incognito Jay Leno has been known to show off some of his collection at this event.
By the way, you can drive your own car on the beach ($5 fee), but you won’t break any speed records — the speed limit is 10 miles an hour.
For those who want to experience the thrill of racing, several tracks offer track rides. The Richard Petty Driving Experience, which offers ride-alongs with a professional driver or an opportunity to drive a race car, is available at Daytona, Homestead and Walt Disney World Speedways. www.drivepetty.com. Skip Barber operates a driving school at Sebring International Speedway. www.skipbarber.com.
Car museums range from small facilities that specialize in a certain type of car to one that has 1,200 vehicles on display. They may showcase vintage cars, rare models, cars used in movies, motorcycles or other types of vehicles.
Following is a more detailed look at selected car race tracks and car museums.
Another major competition at Daytona comes the July 4 weekend, climaxing with the Coke Zero night races July 5 and 6, followed by the largest fireworks show in the Southeast.
Even if one doesn’t attend a major race, there’s plenty to see and do at the Speedway, which is open year around. Speedway tours take guests to areas not normally open to visitors, such as the drivers’ meeting rooms and NASCAR Sprint Cup Garages. Three levels of tours are offered daily except during event days and holidays. The track also offers the Richard Petty Driving Eperience, which puts the guest into a stock car for a run around the oval. Several levels are offered, ranging in price from $135 to $2,199. www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com.Sebring International Raceway:
The track also hosts the Sebring Historics Oct. 26-28, which features vintage car races. Many companies and race groups use the track for tests during the year, and guests are welcome to watch these at no charge.
In spring and winter, the track also has a Skip Barber Racing School on its grounds. www.sebringraceway.com.Homestead Miami Speedway:
“We get fans from all 50 states and 14 countries,” said the track’s Ken Steiren. Some 80,000 are expected to watch the Ford Ecobost race.
The track also has a Richard Petty Driving Experience for part of the year. It is active 280 days of the year with private testing, club events and what Steiren calls “weekend warrior types.” www.homesteadmiamispeedway.com.Other race tracks:
AUTOMOBILE MUSEUMSDezer Collection Museum: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, Harry Potter Muscle Car City: Sarasota Classic Car Museum: Tallahassee Automobile Museum: Tampa Bay Automobile Museum: Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing: Elliott Museum: Fort Lauderdale Antique Car Museum: