Sports and Recreation
Beginning with Speedweeks in late January and wrapping up with the Daytona 500 in mid-February, the Daytona International Speedway is where the NASCAR season kicks off every year. This is appropriate considering that NASCAR was born in a bar on Daytona Beach.
Although the city had a storied history of car-racing on the beach, it wasn’t until race promoter and owner of the beach track Bill France Sr. collaborated with drivers and car owners in 1948 to create a sanctioning body that codified rules and prize purses for races.
In 1953, France put plans in motion to build the Daytona International Speedway, which opened in 1956 with the first running of the Daytona 500. As NASCAR has grown into the second most popular sport in the country, Daytona’s importance has not waned much; it is still considered one of the two most important racing cities in the United States, with the area around Charlotte, North Carolina, being the other.
NASCAR races only happen during the two weeks around the Daytona 500, when five other races are held, and around July 4, when the Coke Zero 400 and the Winn-Dixie 250 occur. The month of March has a clutch of motorcycle races happening in conjunction with the legendary Daytona 200.
And while the partying around Bike Week is legendary enough, the furor that accompanies NASCAR races is something else altogether: A virtual flotilla of RVs roll into town, and nearly every hotel is booked to capacity, with more than 160,000 fans filling the raceway stands and many thousands more spilling over into Daytona bars to watch the race. It’s festive, to be sure, but for visitors disinterested in stock-car racing, the first couple of weeks in March is a good time to avoid coming to Daytona.
The Daytona Cubs baseball team plays at Jackie Robinson Ballpark (115 E. Orange Ave., 386/258-3106, www.daytonacubs.com). While this Class A affiliate of the long-suffering Chicago Cubs draws fairly substantial attendance numbers (2008 was a record year), the ballpark itself is an important part of baseball history. It was here in 1946 that Jackie Robinson stepped up to the plate for the first integrated spring training game in major-league baseball.
Robinson was playing for the Montreal Royals, the top-tier farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers; He played for the Dodgers in 1947. Daytona Beach was the first city in Florida to allow Robinson to play—Jacksonville and Sanford refused to host the team because of Robinson’s race—and though it’s admirable that the park is now named after Robinson, it’s worth noting that the name wasn’t changed until 1990.
Boating and Fishing
Offering both boat rentals and guided ecotours on a 40-foot pontoon boat, Cracker Creek Canoeing (1795 Taylor Rd., Port Orange, 386/304-0778, www.oldfloridapioneer.com) is located just outside Daytona in Port Orange. With access to Spruce Creek and the nearly 2,000 acres of the Spruce Creek Preserve and Recreation Area, Cracker Creek offers daily and hourly canoe and kayak rentals starting at $15; for those with their own nonmotorized boats, they charge a very reasonable launch fee of $5.
Of note: Next door to the canoe shop is the historic Gamble Place, a fishing retreat for James Gamble of Procter & Gamble in the late 19th century. The original buildings— including, inexplicably, a replica of Snow White’s cottage—are open for free self-guided tours (8 a.m.–5 p.m. Thurs.–Sun.); guided tours are $5 and are only available on Fridays.
For something a little more pulse-pounding, Daytona Beach Jet Boats (4009 Halifax Dr., Port Orange, 386/331-5554, daytonabeachjetboats.com) offers rides along the Halifax River on one of their high-speed boats, complete with 360-degree spins that are certainly not for the easily seasick.
Anglers should head for Inlet Harbor (133 Inlet Harbor Rd., Ponce Inlet, 386/767-5590, half-day boat charters from $50 per adult, fishing pier 6 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 6 a.m.–noon Sat.–Sun., $3 adults, $2 children, $5 pole rental) for pier fishing and deep-sea charters on boats ranging 36–65 feet. A restaurant and a gift shop are also on-site.
In a state filled with superlative courses, Indigo Lakes Golf Club (312 Indigo Dr., 386/254-3607) proudly touts its consistent rating among Florida’s top places to golf. With GPS-equipped carts and a par-72 course recently redesigned by Lloyd Clifton, Indigo Lakes is a popular if somewhat understated course.
Less so are the courses at LPGA Inter-national (1000 Champions Dr., 386/274-5742). The Reese Jones–designed par-72 Champions course is one of the hottest golf tickets in town, especially during the winter; similarly in demand is the par-72 Legends course, which is a little shorter and far more natural. Also available at LPGA is the practice facility, with 10 target greens, six putting greens, a place to practice bunker shots, and the three-hole Practice Academy course.
Don’t feel like bothering with clubs? How about giving your throwing arm a workout with some disc golf instead? Tuscawilla Park (Orange Ave. and Nova Rd., 386/671-3400) offers 18 “holes” in a decidedly natural setting with lots of trees and water hazards.
Driving on the Beach
People have been driving on the hard-packed sands of these beaches since there were cars to drive. That sense of tradition has made it nearly impossible to impose anything beyond the most rudimentary restrictions on heading out onto the sand in your car. Some people may find this incredibly convenient; many other people find it incredibly annoying, as the constant hum of motors and car audio systems pretty much guarantees a day at the beach will be anything but quiet and peaceful.
There are designated automobile areas, which are easy to spot by the presence of tollbooths where you flash your season pass ($20 for Volusia County residents, $40 for nonresidents) or pay for a day pass ($5). The season for beach-driving is February 1 through November 30.
© Jason Ferguson from Moon Florida, 1st Edition