Lesa France Kennedy, who topped Forbes’ list of the Most Powerful Women in Sports and serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the International Speedway Corporation (ISC), has added another accomplishment to her impressive credentials – constructing the world’s first motorsports stadium.
Led by Kennedy and ISC, which in 2015 accumulated $645.4 million in total revenue, DAYTONA Rising is the $400 million redevelopment project that is reimagining the American Icon – Daytona International Speedway (DIS).
After 31 months of construction, DAYTONA Rising features 101,500 permanent and wider seating and 60 luxury suites with a revamped hospitality area.
The massive redesign includes 11 football –field sized social areas (called “neighborhoods”) featuring dining and retail amenities. Four of those neighborhoods are sponsored by founding corporate partners – Toyota, Florida Hospital, Chevrolet and Sunoco – that each hold the naming rights to one of five injectors. The redesigned entrances include over 20,000 square feet of fan engagement and vertically span four concourse levels.
“Daytona Rising is going to help us launch new events,” said Kennedy while noting the expanding business opportunities for DIS, such as hosting the Country 500 during Memorial Day weekend and the Ferrari World Finals in December 2016 – the first time this event will be held in North America. “I think it is going to propel us to a whole new level when it comes to reaching fans and providing entertainment and content.”
Beyond racing, ISC and Kennedy are constructing ONE DAYTONA – an $120-150 million 181-acre retail, entertainment and dining complex located directly across from DIS. Anchored by Bass Pro Shops, Cobb Theaters and Marriott Autograph Collection, the phased development project is set to open in 2017.
Leading up to the 58th Daytona 500, I caught with Kennedy to discuss DAYTONA Rising, the growth of ISC, and what she sees for the future of motorsports. The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Glass: The Daytona 500 is an iconic Great American Race and you have been connected to it for so many years. What are your thoughts about this year’s Daytona 500?
Kennedy: All of us are very excited about it because the speedway itself has been totally transformed into a modern day sports stadium. It is one of the most unique properties that I have ever seen. You have to see it to believe it and to appreciate and understand it. The magnitude of it is just amazing.
Glass: As you mentioned, Daytona Rising is the world’s first motorsports stadium. It took over 31 months of construction, and I am sure it was a labor of love. Looking back from when you started the project to where you are now, what were some of the highlights and points of interest?
Kennedy: One thing that stands out for me is the involvement of our founding partners. They signed on early, and they were part of the design process, which has contributed to the uniqueness of this stadium. They each have a 20,000 square foot footprint if you will, and it is very interactive. It is a different way to display their products and to get in front of the race fans, and it is also very entertaining. I think the fans are going to love it.
Glass: Speaking of the fans, how have they reacted now that construction is complete?
Kennedy: We opened for the Rolex 24 event, and they were just overwhelmed. It was fun for me because we had a chance to see fans experience it for the first time. They would walk through the stadium with a whole new look about them. It was real exciting to see their first reactions.
Glass: Going back to your founding corporate partners – Florida Hospital, Sunoco, Toyota and Chevrolet. What does it mean to have these valuable brands on board, not only in terms of the Daytona Rising but to motorsports in general?
Kennedy: Our fans are the most loyal in all of sports, and they are very loyal to the brands that participate in NASCAR. We are very proud of the way they designed and displayed their products. It goes back to the close nature the fans have with the products and also with the brands. The way they have displayed it is in an interactive fashion, so it is not just passive. It is an entertaining experience between the fans and the brands.
Glass: Looking back at 2015, ISC had a banner year by exceeding financial expectations. What attributed to the growth and what are you anticipating for 2016, especially in light of the new Daytona Rising project?
Kennedy: You saw a lot of excitement and enthusiasm that was building throughout last year. And a lot of that was the momentum of the new Chase format. We saw that anticipation building all the way through that event. There were four events that were sold out last year; Watkins Glen International, Phoenix International Raceway, Auto Club Speedway and Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Leading up that all really elevated and launched us into the start of this season. So the Chase format in combination with the Daytona 500 and the new Daytona Rising I think elevates it to a whole new level.
Glass: I understand that there is a new NASCAR charter system that was recently announced. There is anticipation that it will help with growth initiatives, track partners, as well as manufacturers and sponsors. I know it is very early in the announcement, but do you anticipate that this new system will flow into the business side – not only at DIS but as well as your other tracks?
Kennedy: I can speak about it from the track standpoint. The certainty provided to all the stakeholders will be very beneficial to the business, to the sport, and long term – the fans. I want to give you an example of the five-year sanction agreement. It is going to give the tracks the ability to see their schedules in the future and to have the certainty that they want to be able to invest in these facilities. It will give sponsors long-term visibility and overall it is going to be good for the sport. Talking about the five-year sanction agreements, often times our fans will plan way in advance their vacations surrounding our events. This is going to give them a chance to plan further ahead and to anticipate the events.