Every February, thousands of race fans flock to Daytona Beach for one of the most iconic events in all of motorsports—The Daytona 500. Leading up to the big event at The World Center for Racing is Daytona's Speedweek. The schedule for this action-packed week includes multiple races and qualifying events at the speedway as well as numerous off-track activities throughout the greater Daytona Beach area.
This year’s event takes place from February 5th through the 12th. If you’ve experienced Speedweek before, then this year’s event may look a little different due to COVID-19 procedures and safety precautions. With that being said, you may be looking for some alternative activities to escape the crowds and experience the Daytona area from a new perspective.
Ponce Inlet is an ideal destination for Speed Week visitors who are in search of fresh air, sunshine, and a taste of the local culture! Read on for the many reasons you should make the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse & Museum part of your 2021 Speed Week itinerary.
Climb 175-Feet of Florida History
No Daytona vacation is complete without a trip to the historic Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse & Museum. A true fan favorite, the Ponce Inlet Light Station is home to Florida’s tallest lighthouse! Visitors can climb 203 steps to the top of the historic tower where spectacular views of the World’s Most Famous Beach, Atlantic Ocean, Ponce Inlet, and inland waterways await. Come on up and explore the gallery deck! Enjoy the cool coastal breeze and soak in the warm sunshine as you look out over Daytona from high above. This is what Florida is all about!
Enjoy a Bird’s Eye View of Birthplace of Speed
Race fans—as you look from the top of Florida’s tallest lighthouse you will enjoy a bird’s eye view of NASCAR’s original beach racing course. The Daytona Beach area has long been known as the Birthplace of Speed. One of the first beach racing courses was a 3.2 mile track located approximately ten miles north of Ponce Inlet. This early track was used from 1936 until 1941 when the United States’ entry into World War II suspended motor racing for the duration of the conflict.
Racing returned to beach in 1947 when a small group of men, including Bill France, met at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach. Out of that meeting came a new organization, the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing, or NASCAR.
The first NASCAR track was established on the beach in Ponce Inlet. The 4.2 mile long racecourse shared many similarities with its predecessor from 1936. The first leg of the track ran south along a newly paved section of Atlantic Avenue while the second leg ran north along the white sands of the beach in Ponce Inlet. The two straightaways were connected by hairpin turns appropriately named the north turn and south turn. Racing enthusiasts would sit in temporary bleachers erected at each turn, on sand dunes, or in their own personal vehicles parked on the beach. The spectators would cheer on their favorite race team and marveled at the skill of the daredevil drivers as they jockeyed for position in pursuit of the checkered flag.
NASCAR races continue in Ponce Inlet for nearly ten years. The last stock car race was on the beach was held in 1958. During the summer of that year, construction began on the Daytona International Speedway, and the first Daytona 500 championship NASCAR Grand National stock car race took place there on February 22, 1959. Lighthouse visitors can clearly see where early stock cars once raced around the old beach oval by looking north from tower’s gallery deck.
Discover NASCAR’s Ponce Inlet Roots
Due to COVID-19 precautions, previously advertised onsite offerings for the 2021 Beach Racing Day at the Lighthouse have been cancelled. However, our museum will feature a special display of beach racing history.
The pioneer events of automobile racing in the United States took place on the wide, hard-packed beaches of the Ormond and Daytona area. The first auto race held on an oval track (now standard in modern day NASCAR) rather than a straight track, took place in Ponce Inlet as described previously.
When you visit our beach racing exhibit, you’ll learn all about early automobile racing in Ponce Inlet and how the lighthouse served as a visual landmark for all kinds of motorsports. As a race fan visiting the area, you will be following in the footsteps of many before you. During the beach racing days, new waves of visitors came to the lighthouse. Coast Guard personnel stationed at the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse often took time out of their busy schedules to welcome them and take them on a guided tour of the light station. Modern race fans can enjoy a similar experience today!
Visit One of Ponce Inlet’s Waterside Eateries
When an entire town is located on a narrow strip of land, there is no shortage of waterfront restaurants where you can savor fresh seafood while enjoying a view of the ocean or inland waterways. Grab a cold beverage in the shadow of Florida’s Tallest Lighthouse at Hidden Treasure Rum Bar & Grill or head up to Racing’s North Turn for a delicious meal surrounded by automobile racing memorabilia.
Along the river, you can find various coastal eateries that specialize in local seafood including Down the Hatch Seafood Company or Off the Hook at Inlet Harbor. Most restaurants in Ponce Inlet offer live entertainment during Speedweek.
There is no shortage of authentic Florida cuisine in Ponce Inlet! For more information, check out our previous article, 5 Places to Eat During Your Ponce Inlet Lighthouse Visit.
Soak in Old Florida Coastal Charm
The best part of visiting Ponce Inlet during Speed Week is the opportunity to escape the race crowds and experience true old Florida charm. So much of Ponce Inlet has stayed the same over the years. In Ponce Inlet you won’t find any of the busy shopping centers, commercial businesses, noisy traffic or packed crowds that hard to avoid a few miles north. Instead, you’ll find tranquility and plenty of natural beauty. Whether you’re exploring the historic lighthouse and museum or soaking up sunshine as you enjoy our coastal landscapes, you’ll find that there is so much to discover in our little slice of paradise.
We can’t wait to welcome race fans to Ponce Inlet! The Lighthouse & Museum will be open an additional hour (until 7pm) on February 5th & 6th, 12th & 13th, and 15th-17th to accommodate Speedweek visitors. Keep in mind that last admission is sold one hour prior to close so make sure you get here before 6pm. You may even be able to catch the sunset from the top of the tower!
For more information regarding our COVID-19 procedures, please visit /Ponce-Inlet-Lighthouse-COVID-19-Safety-Information-1-6961.html.