Start your engines: Central Florida revs up for Daytona 500

NASCAR fans prepare for 61st edition of greatest American race

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Buckle up, Central Florida: The greatest American race is back for its 61st edition.

Chip Wile, the president of the Daytona International Speedway, said it's a matter of hours until the Daytona 500. Then, it's all about NASCAR.

"This is NASCAR's biggest, most prestigious race. Every race car driver wants to win the Daytona 500 because it changes the path of their career," Wile said.

Central Floridians and NASCAR fans everywhere will be watching to see who takes home the Harley J. Earl trophy at Sunday's Daytona 500 race.

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On Sunday, thousands of race car fanatics will fill the Daytona International Speedway -- the birthplace of NASCAR.

"People love coming to Daytona in February for the Daytona 500," Wile said "This is truly an international event. We'll have fans coming from 42 different countries. Every state will be represented."

On Thursday, the starting grid was all set, but visitors could get a taste of the speed before the big race.

Through a unique opportunity leading up to the race, anyone who's in for a thrill ride can go out to the speedway for the NASCAR Racing Experience.

You can either be the driver of a stock car or ride shotgun to get a taste of what the professional drivers go through with speeds of about 170 mph.

"It gives you a new appreciation for these race car drivers, and to think that you have 40 cars that are inches apart, doing what you just did, is mind-blowing," Wile said.

News 6 reporter Carolina Cardona asked Wile who he thought would take home the trophy.

"That's the great thing about the 500, is you don't really know. People are talking about these young drivers, William Byron who's sitting on the pole, or Alex Bowman who's sitting on the outside. Both are really young and up-and-coming drivers," he said.

They're young drivers who will be competing against veteran driver Jimmy Johnson -- a seven-time champion.

"He's poised to make a run for his eighth (win), so we'll see if he starts this weekend with the Daytona 500, you know? Is it gonna be a young guy, or is it gonna be a veteran who's been here a lot?" Wile said.

The Daytona 500 is set to take place Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

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