Like much else in Florida, it all began with a beach: beautiful Daytona Beach, which runs for 24 miles along a skinny peninsula divided from the north Florida mainland by the Halifax River. In the early 1900s, when "horseless carriages" were still a novelty, automobile enthusiasts discovered that Daytona Beach's uniquely hard-packed white sand made the perfect drag strip. A century later, the town has every right to call itself "The World Center of Racing."
Auto racing in Daytona outgrew the beach long ago. In 1959, a proper 2[bf]1/2-mile racetrack, the Daytona International Speedway, was built 4 miles inland, and stock car racing's premier event, the 200-lap Daytona 500, was launched. The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) is now based in Daytona, and over a million race fans come here for 9 or 10 major events a year. Big races sell out months in advance -- tickets to the Daytona 500 in February can be gone a year ahead of time (call tel. 800/PITSHOP [748-7467] for tickets).
If you're not attending a race, you can also take a 30-minute guided tram tour that visits the garage area, pit road, and so on. Speed freaks can pay a stiff fee to have the Richard Petty Driving Experience, run by seven-time Daytona 500 winner Richard Petty (tel. 800/237-3889; www.drivepetty.com) -- a three-lap ride around the tri-oval track in a real stock car, cruising at an average speed of, oh, say 115 mph.
Nearest Airport: Daytona Beach International.
Where to Stay: $$ Bahama House, 2001 S. Atlantic Ave., Daytona Beach Shores (tel. 888/687-1894 or 386/248-2001; www.daytonabahamahouse.com). $$ Shoreline All Suites Inn, 2435 S. Atlantic Ave., Daytona Beach Shores (tel. 800/293-0653 or 386/252-1692; www.daytonashoreline.com).