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Few experiences in American sports can compare to a weekend at the Daytona International Speedway, particularly the infield camp grounds that are packed with everything from million-dollar RVs and humble pup tents.

Kick back around a campfire or belly up to a crudely constructed bar — or “nightclub” even — and party the hours away until the next morning when you roll out of bed as the action begins.

Not everyone is a NASCAR fan, though. The NFL, on the other hand, is by far the country’s most popular sport. It just happens to be played inside monied-fortresses that are more about luxury boxes than accessibility.

So what if you could combine the best of both worlds — bringing the down-home fun of NASCAR to the across-the-board passion for pro football?

What if it wasn’t just a race weekend that took over Daytona, but a NFL game weekend, with everything building to kickoff rather than a green flag? What if the Jacksonville Jaguars moved to Daytona and played NFL games in the expansive infield of the 2.5-mile track?

This isn’t some absurd concept. The Jaguars are in the process of planning for major renovations of TIAA Bank Field that is expected to leave them homeless for a couple years. They could maybe move their games to Gainesville and the University of Florida, or maybe to Camping World Stadium in Orlando.

Or maybe, just maybe, they could head to the iconic 64-year-old race track 90 miles to the south.

Daytona International Speedway president Frank Kellehar told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that the Jags and track officials were scheduled to meet this week to discuss logistics.

This won’t be the only option, or maybe the simplest for the NFL team. It would be the most unique and exciting, though.

“It would be an interesting solution, but would also require significant investment in terms of infrastructure,” Jags president Mark Lamping told the website VenueNow.com. “It can accommodate a big crowd. It would be a little wonky, but it’s worth considering.”

The obvious question, is there room?

There’s actually plenty. Daytona’s infield is massive. That includes a sizable grass area between the track and pit road on the front stretch – basically where race winners do celebratory burn outs.

DIS already calls it “the ball field.” It can fit a football field — in the 1970s Bethune-Cookman played four times there and in recent years there was talk of trying to lure a major college game to the track. Last July it hosted two professional soccer games, including the NWSL’s Orlando Pride.

DIS underwent an overhaul of its own in 2016 called “Daytona Rising” that lowered grandstand capacity to 101,000 but completely modernized the experience with new facilities, bars, restaurants, luxury boxes and party decks. It’s estimated around 50,000 of those seats would be suitable to watch a football game.

While NFL-level locker rooms and other items would be needed, NASCAR, which owns the track, sounds eager to do what it takes.

“[DIS is] eager to explore the possibilities,” Kelleher told the Daytona News-Journal, “but we need to first sit down with [the Jaguars] and understand what their needs are.”

There is no perfect solution when an NFL team needs a temporary home.

In 2002, renovations to Soldier Field sent the Chicago Bears to the University of Illinois for the season, an inconvenience (and sizable traffic jam) for Chicago-based fans. The Los Angeles Chargers spent three seasons (2017-19) playing at a tiny 27,000-seat soccer stadium in Carson while nearby SoFi Stadium was being built.

The easiest move would be Orlando or Gainesville, where big stadiums already sit. Or the Jags could go small in an effort to stay local and try to upgrade a Jacksonville minor league baseball or soccer facility.

Daytona would be a totally different deal, but one that would be a winner for fans looking for a totally different experience. No, the site lines wouldn’t be perfect. Yeah it would be weird to have everyone sitting on one side of the field.

But what about everything else?

Back in 2016, upon the completion of “Daytona Rising,” then track president Joie Chitwood told Yahoo Sports that DIS would be perfect for a major college football game.

“Fans could camp in the infield and then walk over to the game,” Chitwood said. “We have 500 acres of property; it would be the largest single tailgate in the country.”

In 2016, Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee hosted a game between Virginia Tech and Tennessee that saw an NCAA record 156,900 attend.

Reviews of the fan experience were mixed — it wasn’t easy to see the game from every seat. Daytona is a bit different, though. The front stretch grandstand is purposefully steep and the field would be closer to it than the paddock at Bristol.

If nothing else, it would marry two distinctly great American sporting traditions — the NASCAR infield with the NFL’s popularity. For two years, a road trip to Daytona for a Jags game would become a bucket list experience.

Can it be worked out? No one knows right now.

At least the track and the team are talking, though. Imagination may be the only thing standing in the way of being able to camp out inside a “NFL stadium” and taking a few steps over to the game.

Read the full article here

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