While Daytona International Speedway prepares to introduce fans to an exciting new future with the World’s First Motorsports Stadium, the memories of racing history live on where they began -- at Racing’s North Turn.
The history lesson begins upon your first steps into the establishment as the entryway walls are adorned end-to-end with black and white photos. With everything from rule books, entry forms and newspaper clippings to authentic trophies, steering wheels, and race helmets it’s easy to see why many consider this a veritable beach racing Hall of Fame.
“It’s really important to me to make sure that we tell a story. We’ve worked really hard to do so and I think we’ve been successful,” explains co-owner Rhonda Glasnak. “On any day that we’re open, you’ll find people in here just walking around. Some people don’t even eat.”
The building itself has quite an interesting history, as it has remained in this location for more than 60 years, initially as the Sandpiper Bar and Restaurant.
The restaurant served an important purpose, serving up boxed lunches to hungry race fans, as the building sat directly behind the North Turn of the old beach racing course.
The course started at the North Turn and went south two miles on A1A (parallel to the ocean) to the end of the road, where the drivers accessed the beach at the South Turn, went two miles north on the hard-packed beach surface, and turned away from the beach at the North Turn.
Official racing on the beach started in 1936 as the growth of Daytona Beach as a racing hub saw the birth and boom of NASCAR as stock cars raced on the beach until 1958, when NASCAR relocated to the world-class Daytona International Speedway. While racing has moved inland, the location serves as an important landmark as the impact and legacy of those who participated in the beach racing on the Daytona sands carry on to the drivers and fans of today.
However, the now-synonymous celebration of racing roots that the location enjoys hasn’t always been at the forefront. Despite its early success and popularity, the restaurant suffered though several regime changes as a variety of owners tried to put their own stamp on things, including a high-end restaurant and a tiki-themed beach bar.
“To my knowledge, we are the only people that ever owned this building that embraced the racing history,” said Glasnak.
Rhonda and fellow co-owner and husband Walter came to the area in 1988 from Dearborn Heights, Michigan and immediately made themselves part of the local community, buying a small 50-unit motel in Daytona Beach Shores that saw the beginning of their interest in racing.
“Owning the motel, we would constantly fill up with race fans,” explained Glasnak. “That led me to join the Chamber of Commerce and the Living Legends of Auto Racing and the annual parade we put on. That was the beginning of our interest in collecting and building our racing memorabilia.”
Rhonda and Walter fondly remember driving up and down the beach, taking time to stop at the then-vacant building with daydreams about one day owning it.
“We wanted it always,” Rhonda recalled. “When we had the opportunity to buy it, it was a no-brainer.”
Amongst other issues that doomed previous owners, the Glasnaks faced one major problem – they had no previous experience in the food industry.
“That was the hard knocks of learning. Hospitality, we knew about, running a motel for years, but handling people’s food is a lot different. I’ll openly admit that it took a couple of years to figure it out. It didn’t happen overnight.”
Once they figured things out, the business boomed as word of mouth and great reviews brought more and more people into the establishment.
“This isn’t just a place for people that are into racing,” she explained. “This is a community gathering. The neighbors that live here walk over all the time. We have an incredible, devoted group of regulars.”
Soon, it became quite normal for the restaurant to be lined with a who’s who of the motorsports world.
“Racing is such a family-oriented sport, so I think they like to come in to see memories of their fathers and grandfathers. Every time Glen Wood comes in, he takes the time to walk around and take in everything. The Yates family, the Wood family, and plenty of others love the strong, family-type atmosphere we’ve built and I think that brings people back.”
Racing’s North Turn has truly been a family affair.
"We really couldn't do it without the help of our children. My daughter Julia and our son-in-law Lars Bienemann (the restaurant's GM) have been unbelievably strong resources. They are as important to our success as anyone. They've been incredibly helpful and I'm very thankful for their hard work and support."
Unfortunately, this dream-come-true family business turned real-life nightmare in July 2014. A rapping on their door at 2 am from a Ponce Inlet police officer notified the family that their beloved creation had suffered massive damage from a kitchen fire.
The damage was staggering.
“We had to gut everything. Outside it was smoke-damaged. Everything smelled and had to be washed down and cleaned. The fire burned the inside down to the wood frame.”
Perhaps even more heartbreaking was the loss of all of the one-of-a-kind items the restaurant had been collecting for decades.
“We didn’t realize how much stuff we had, until we went around and saw all that was lost,” says Glasnak.
It was a major blow to the family, both personally and professionally; however, they are adamant that they never once considered not reopening.
“It changed all of us a lot. It was a stressful time. We worked day and night to get this place back up and running.”
After six weeks of strenuous, back-breaking labor, the North Turn was opening on a limited scale – running out of a food truck.
“The town of Ponce Inlet was extremely supportive. They came in immediately and paved the way for us to get to work right away. They let us work out of a food truck for four months after spending six full weeks cleaning up. People showed up. We couldn’t believe how many people stepped forward to help. It was so heartwarming.”
Just a little over a year since reopening in full, the Glasnaks have restocked their collection of artifacts thanks to the people of the community and say that they continue to see daily reminders of the rewarding nature of their efforts.
“We’re very fortunate because every day someone comes in with a picture or a photograph with their father or grandfather. We are given so many things and, of course, we put it on the wall. It’s a real treat for family members of past drivers to come in and see their grandparent or whomever it was that raced on the beach and see their picture on the wall. It’s why we keep doing what we’re doing.”
Thanks to an unbeatable oceanside view, strong ties to racing heritage and top-notch food that includes Fish and Shrimp Tacos and renowned Clam Chowder, it’s easy to see why Racing’s North Turn has been named a Top 10 Florida Beach Bar for five consecutive years. What’s not so clear is what Racing’s North turn is. A restaurant? A beach bar? A museum?
“We’re all of the above. It’s all of those three things. As time has progressed, we’ve gone more into a museum mode on the inside and a restaurant/beach bar on the deck outside.”
Whatever your reason is for going, it’s clear that Walter and Rhonda Glasnak are truly committed to keeping this local jewel alive for generations to enjoy.
“We’ve survived two hurricanes and a fire and we’re still here. My husband and I really feel like this location here is a part of Volusia County history. All you have to do is look at the pictures on the wall to understand that. I think everyone that lives here is proud of that.”
Truly the tale of the Daytona Beach community and racing at Daytona International Speedway cannot be told without a lengthy chapter on beach racing. Thankfully, we all have Racing’s North Turn as escort through these pages of history.