Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 1 November 2014

In the fast lane for west Belfast man Jim Bannon

Andersonstown-born Jim Bannon tells Amanda Ferguson how a planned one-year stay in the US has, two decades later, culminated in a project in the World Center of Racing

Daytona Speedway in Florida. Action Sports Photography / Shutterstock.com
Daytona Speedway in Florida. Action Sports Photography / Shutterstock.com

From architecture in Belfast to overseeing the $400m Daytona Rising project in the US mecca for motor sports.

Jim Bannon, from Andersonstown, is enjoying another career highlight. The father-of-two is project director for the International Speedway Corporation's multi-million dollar scheme in Florida to redevelop the front stretch of Daytona International Speedway, the company's 54-year-old flagship motor sports facility.

Work on the project has begun and is due for completion in January 2016, just in time for the 54th Rolex 24, which will be attended by motorsport enthusiasts from across the globe, including from the UK and Ireland.

In its long history Daytona has welcomed a wide variety of race fans including US presidents Ronald Reagan and George W Bush.

Its new upgrade will include 53 suites offering superb views of the track, in the stadium, which seats more than 100,000 people.

Jim, his Belfast-born wife Philomena and their son and daughter call Ormond Beach, just north of Daytona Beach, home. Educated at the University of Ulster and Queen's University Belfast, Jim practised as an architect in Northern Ireland from 1984 until 1993 when he moved to America to take up a one-year teaching post at the Savannah College of Art and Design, in Georgia. He got his green card and decided to stay.

The UK and US-registered architect has overseen around $1.4bn of design and construction projects since the 1990s, including the development of stadia and racetracks in Kansas and Chicago.

Jim said: "I left Belfast in 1993 to teach at a college in Georgia for a year. I got a green card and decided to stay.

"I worked for ISC from 1999 to 2002 and after a few other projects I started back with them in August 2012. It is great on a number of fronts to get back to were I used to work and link up with colleagues."

The Daytona redevelopment includes five expanded fan entrances along International Speedway Boulevard, featuring strategically placed "social neighbourhoods" along the near mile-long front stretch.

A total of 11 neighbourhoods, each measuring the size of a football field, will enable fans to meet and socialise during events without ever missing any on-track action, thanks to an open-sightline design throughout each concourse and dozens of added video screens in every neighbourhood.

The central neighbourhood, dubbed the 'World Center of Racing,' will celebrate the history of Daytona International Speedway and its many unforgettable moments throughout more than 50 years of racing.

Jim is enjoying being project director for the Daytona International Speedway project -- Daytona Rising -- the biggest single undertaking of his career.

"I'm responsible for oversight of the design and construction process, overseeing the architects and contractors," he said. "I work on the owner's side, the design and construction side. There are seven people working on it, but there will be thousands involved in the construction and contractors side of the project. We expect completion in early 2016."

Jim has lived in America for 20 years and enjoys the US way of life but does miss "a walk along the Lagan towpath on a cool, grey, rainy day".

"My wife Phil has just graduated from college," Jim said.

"My 22-year-old daughter has just graduated too and my 19-year-old son is currently studying architecture.We love it out here."

The inside track

International Speedway Corporation is a leading player in US motorsports, promoting more than 100 racing events annually.

The company owns and/or operates 13 major motorsports entertainment facilities, including Daytona International Speedway in Florida, home of 'The Great American Race', the Daytona 500.

Daytona International Speedway and ISC's operations in Daytona Beach generate $1.6bn a year in economic benefit to the state of Florida.

For information about its $400m redevelopment project visit www.redevelop daytona.com.

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk