DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - At the Bistro on the infield, patrons drink martinis and dine on jumbo lump blue-crab cakes and artichoke dip.
Seven floors up in nearby Nextel Tower, stock car fans watch races — either by looking out the window or at large flat-screen televisions — in luxury suites that sell for up to $200,000.
The prices and amenities at Daytona International Speedway make it as plain as the Viagra sponsorship logos on Mark Martin’s Ford: NASCAR isn’t all about Bubba, beer and barbecue anymore.
The days in which fans watched races while sitting on wooden slats straight from the sawmill are long gone at the tracks of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.
More and more these days, luxury rules:
Condominiums trackside at the Atlanta Motor Speedway allow well-heeled residents to watch races from their living rooms or from a rooftop bar — free of the hassle of long lines and big crowds and safe from the smell of burned rubber and high-octane fuel.
At the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, members of the Speedway Club can drop their children at its day care center and get a manicure and a Swedish massage — or take a kickboxing lesson — at the facility’s health club and spa.
The Daytona track just opened its exclusive 500 Club — membership fees begin at $2,500 — where patrons on race days get bar and buffet service and a seat above Victory Lane.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway offers golf packages — the regular greens fee is $90 — at the Brickyard Crossing, a course adjacent to the track that includes four holes on the infield.
“It’s becoming more opulent all the time,” says H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler, president of Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. “Even in flat times, you can’t do enough for people. … Look at the new NFL stadiums: They’re showplaces. We have to do the same thing at speedways. People really want to travel first class.”
Mr. Wheeler built Lowe’s Speedway — then known as Charlotte Motor Speedway —40 years ago, and the facilities were anything but luxurious at the time.
“The seating wasn’t very good, the food was awful, the bathrooms were terrible,” Mr. Wheeler says. “But people kept coming back, more and more of them every week.”
Mr. Wheeler and NASCAR have traveled a long way from the sport’s rural roots in the Southeast, where the organization was founded in 1948 and mostly operated over the next four decades.
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