With big marquee events attracting crowds in the hundreds of thousands, Daytona International Speedway is known as the world center of racing around the globe, but the roots and foundation of motorsports also exist on a smaller scale down the road at New Smyrna Speedway.
Located just 12 miles away from the big track, New Smyrna Speedway has given race fans and budding race drivers thrills and chills for more than 50 years, according to Rusty Marcus, track manager. The half-mile racetrack, which is one of three auto racing tracks in Volusia, opened in 1966 as a dirt track before switching to asphalt six months later to begin hosting the World Series of Stock Car Racing.
The track, which has been under the ownership of the Hart family since its founding, now has 50 employees and puts on a racing schedule 11 months of the year. “We run in January with the Red Eye, that opens the year,” Marcus said. “In February we run the World Series of Asphalt and we start the season in March and it runs through October.”
While the track is usually dormant in December through the holiday season these days, Marcus said that wasn’t always the case. “When Clyde Hart ran the track he ran it 52 weeks a year, he would stay until the wee hours of the morning to make sure the races got in. He would always say, if two cars showed up for a race, you got a race.”
In addition to the World Series of Asphalt and the Red Eye 100, there are numerous other special events throughout the year: the Orange Blossom 100 in January, the Clyde Hart Memorial 100 in July, The Marion Edwards Memorial in September, the Hart to Heart Breast Cancer Foundation 100 and the Florida Governor’s Cup in November.
Being so close to “The World Center of Racing” is “a good thing for New Smyrna Speedway and it all works well together,” according to Marcus. As Daytona International Speedway and NASCAR work to fine-tune their race series, tracks like New Smyrna Speedway are learning how to adapt to changing schedules and events.
Changes and new marketing efforts at the top can have an impact all the way down the line in the racing world. Marcus said one change is NASCAR’s decision to move the Independence Day weekend event from Daytona International Speedway to another venue, which provided an opportunity for the opening race of NASCAR’s Whelen Modified series to be held at New Smyrna Speedway. “That’s never been done before,” he said. “We are going to be hosting the first points race for the series!”
Another tradition that continues at New Smyrna Speedway is building the future of racing, both in terms of fans and new drivers. Getting the next generation involved and excited about racing is a prime focus for smaller tracks like New Smyrna Speedway. “What we look for is for families to get involved; We’ve got to get the young people involved to take over, If we don’t keep the younger people involved, the sport is going to die”, says Marcus.
Godwin Kelly, former motorsports writer at the Daytona Beach News-Journal who covered auto racing for 40 years, said New Smyrna Speedway has served as a springboard not only for drivers but for racing industry management as well. “A perfect example of that would be Ben Kennedy, he started at New Smyrna Speedway,” Kelly said. “And he’s worked his way up from there through the NASCAR ladder system. That’s a real plus.”
“The opportunity for people to get involved in racing at a smaller track like New Smyrna Speedway also has an economic impact. When you add up all the people involved in racing, the money spent on building and maintaining a racecar and everything else involved is a significant amount of money when it’s all said and done. “I’d guess you’d call it a cottage industry around here”, said Kelly.