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Mobile command: Daytona musts

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: The NASCAR and golf worlds converge

By TRAVIS HILL
Contributing Writer

DAYTONA, Fla. — Mullets, motorheads and more light beer than you thought possible. Locals call it Speedweeks – nearly two weeks of racing in Daytona Beach, culminating in the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s Super Bowl.

Hundreds of thousands of race fans descend on this beach town, igniting a nonstop party. If you’re going to the Feb. 17 main event, bring your sticks. Daytona is a target-rich golf environment.

Here’s what visitors need to know:

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Must plays:

1. Ocean Hammock (Ocean Course): This spectacular Jack Nicklaus design is home to the Champions Tour’s Ginn Championship. The attention to detail is impressive for a resort course, and the six holes on the Atlantic Ocean make it one of the top tracks in Florida. (It’s No. 3 on Golfweek’s Best state list.) Definitely worth the 30-minute drive north from the speedway.

2. LPGA International (Legends Course): Home of the 2007 NCAA Division I Women’s Championship, this course is fast becoming the grande dame of Daytona. Bring an extra sleeve; this Arthur Hills design will take you through some dense wetlands.

3. LPGA International (Champions Course): This Rees Jones design is for the more laid-back set. Both LPGA courses are known for their consistently good conditions, but this is the place where you can get away with that extra cocktail at the turn.

4. Sugar Mill: This well-maintained complex is a quiet gem just south of Daytona in New Smyrna Beach. What better way to celebrate the Great American Race than by playing on Sugar Mill’s Red, White and Blue nines?

5. Halifax Plantation: This scenic track opened in 1993, but it feels much older than that. If you need a break from the honky tonk near the track, this relaxing stroll is perfect.

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Must graze:

1. Wings-Pizza-n-Things: This sports bar has a goofy name and a goofy location: a nondescript strip mall along State Road A1A. But the five 12-foot HD projection screens inside are no joke. Arrive early for a table – this local favorite fills up quickly. And don’t forget to order the parmesan & garlic wings.

2. Ocean Deck: Grab a bite at this local legend. But be careful: One drink can turn into an entire night of full-blown karaoke faster than Tony Stewart around Turn 3.

3. Chops: Where Daytona goes from a tub of Bud Light to tapas under moonlight. This modern, upscale restaurant probably isn’t the place to bring your golf buddies, but it will definitely impress your date.

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Where the drivers are:

1. Lollipops: Daytona’s most famous evening establishment is a curious combination of college-style dance club and full-blown strip joint. Rumor has it that some drivers reserve their spots at Lolli’s before they get to Daytona. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been spotted here during Speedweeks.

2. Bootsie’s Hideaway: This ultimate local hide-out originally was a double-wide trailer. If you can find it, you’ll probably end up pounding Buds next to guys who work in the garages.

3. Aqua Lounge: Another popular driver hangout. It’s in the middle of the action in downtown Daytona, and if you can tolerate the pulsing music, you might spot someone famous.

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Must stays:

1. Bahama House: Beware Daytona’s oceanfront hotels – the stench of spring break lingers in their walls. Bahama House is an exception, and it’s ideally located on the water amid the main stripof bars and restaurants.

2. Homewood Suites Daytona Beach Speedway: If you want to be in the middle of the mullet action, this is the spot. It’s well-kept, and you can hear the roar of the engines from your room.

3. The Shores Resort & Spa: This high-end, beachfront hotel in South Daytona is eight miles from the downtown hot spots, but if you have the cash and prefer the quiet, this is the place.

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Why Daytona?

Flat sand and low tides: Those are two key reasons why this city is home to NASCAR’s headquarters, the Daytona 500 and Daytona International Speedway. Around the turn of the century, when wealthy men such as John D. Rockefeller and Ransom E. Olds wintered in the area, they discovered that the flat sand and low tide created ideal test tracks for their newfangled “horseless carriages.” The first race was sanctioned in 1903. Wonder if Skoal and Busch Light ever sponsored Rockefeller’s race?

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