The Daytona International Speedway
The Daytona Beach and Road Course
The Daytona Beach and Road Course was a unique and exciting early venue for automobile racing. With a history dating back to 1903 the Beach Course was instrumental in the formation of the National Association for Automobile Stock Car Racing (NASCAR). Located in Daytona Beach, Florida the race course began in the town of Ponce Inlet, FL and ran along State Highway A1A for two miles before reaching its end where drivers would access the beach at the south turn via the Beach Street approach then make the two mile northward return trip along the sandy beach surface until reaching the north turn and returning to the paved surface of A1A completing one lap. The course length was originally 3.2 miles before being lengthened to 4.2 miles in the late 1940’s.
Early Land Speed Records
Daytona has been a "World Center of Speed" since the turn of the 20th century and many early automotive pioneers and personalities have participated such as Barney Oldfield, Ralph De Palma, Ransom Olds, Henry Ford and the Stanley Brothers. In reality the beach course encompassed both the beach in Daytona and the beach in the Town of Ormond Beach, but when the American Automobile Association (AAA) built a clubhouse just over the line in Daytona Beach the media credited Daytona Beach as the location for racing and record attempts.
Starting in 1903 land-speed record attempts, as well as oval-type racing events were held, with the first officially organized event taking place on March 26, 1903 between, Ransom Olds in his “Pirate” and Alexander Winton in his “Bullet”. Record runs were made on the straight stretches with posts marking each measured mile while oval courses were delineated by barrels. The first timed run was by Olds in the “Pirate” with H. T. Thomas at the wheel. But then Winton in the “Bullet” beat him by 0.2 seconds, setting the first record over the measured mile of 68.198 mph. The happening was sanctioned and timed by the AAA, although the FIA refused confirmation. The event was dubbed the “Winter Carnival” thus was born what came to be known as “Speedweek”, eventually evolving in today’s “Speedweeks”.
It would be nearly a year before Daytona would set its second land speed record and this would come at the hands of famous motor racing enthusiast and yachtsman William K. Vanderbilt. On January 27, 1904 he covered a measured mile distance in 39 seconds at 92.30 mph driving a Mercedes. Interestingly enough the FIA the world governing body of automobile racing declined to recognize the record setting even though the event was sanctioned by AAA.
New land speed records were continued to be set at Daytona. Arthur McDonald went 104.65 mph in his 90-hp Napier setting a new record for the beach. Finally in January of 1906 there was a world land speed record set that was recognized by the FIA. This was when the twin Stanley Brothers, Francis and Freeland, brought their steamer, the “Rocket.” They came to prove that steam was a superior method of propulsion. Louis Chevrolet was there in a Darracq, but Fred Marriott, driving for the brothers, achieved the first official world record at Daytona Beach of 127 mph. This was even more notable because Marriott was an American driving in an American-built car. The record stood for three years.
Through March of 1935 a total of 15 world land speed records were set at Daytona Beach. Malcolm Campbell set the all time Daytona Beach land speed record at 272.46 mph driving his “Bluebird”. Later that year he would break the 300 mph barrier at the Bonneville Salt Flats. With speeds now reaching over 300 mph safety had become a concern at Daytona Beach and future world land speed record attempts were moved to Bonneville, although record attempts in production cars continued well into the 1950’s at Daytona.
Malcolm Campbell Sets Daytona Beach Speed Record
The Birth of Stock Car Racing at Daytona
When world land speed record attempts moved from Daytona to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, it left a void in the local Daytona Beach economy. Sensing a loss in revenue Daytona Beach city officials asked local racer Sig Haugdahl to organize and promote an automobile race along the 3.2-mile beach course. The race was held on March 8, 1936 and was to be a 78 lap, 250 mile event. It was sanctioned by AAA and was restricted to 1935-36 family sedans. The City of Daytona Beach put up a $5,000 purse with $1,700 going to the winner. The race turned into a financial disaster for the city and promoters because fans had already arrived before the ticket sellers and had already found places along the beach to sit and watch the race. Another problem was that the track was not properly prepared for the heavy stock cars running standard passenger tires. Cars quickly got bogged down on the sandy turns eventually making the track nearly impassable in the corners. Race and scoring officials became utterly confused as to which car was running in what position and how many laps they had completed. The race was called after 75 laps and Milt Marion was declared the winner. Second and third place finishers Ben Shaw and Tommy Elmore protested the race but their appeals were denied. All and all the city lost $22,000 and this was last time the City of Daytona Beach ever promoted a automobile race.
Despite this set back all was not lost. Haugdahl and Bill France Sr. had become very good friends. France was a racer from Washington, DC that competed in board races at a track near Laurel, Md. He worked several jobs before owning and operating his own service station. In the spring of 1935 he moved himself and his family to Daytona seeking better economic opportunities. He had less than $100 to his name and began painting houses before working at a local car dealership. He set up a car repair shop in Daytona at 316 Main Street Station, still in existence today as an event and entertainment venue.
Haugdahl and France talked the Daytona Beach Elks Club into promoting a Labor Day weekend race set for 1937. They were only able to raise a $100 purse for the race, but it was more organized than the previous race with improved management, promotions, and track conditions, however the Elks Lodge still lost money on the event. After two attempts at race promoting Sig Haugdahl decided to get out of the racing promotion business for good, leaving France on his own. France however was convinced that racing had a future in the Daytona Beach area and continued working towards his goal of promoting a successful race.
It was not easy going for France as he was a struggling filling-station operator and didn't have enough cash to cover a purse, advertise and promote the race plus pay the city to set up the course. He was finally able to convince local restaurateur Charlie Reese, rich and well known, to post a $1,000 purse and let France recruit drivers and spread the word. Danny Murphy beat France in the 150-miler that generated just enough profit to convince the co-promoter to do it again. They managed another successful stock car promotion on Labor Day weekend of 1938. France beat Lloyd Moody and Pig Ridings in that race and then organized and promoted three more races in March, July, and September of 1939. They did it again in March, July and September of 1940. France fared well in those three races of 1940 finishing fourth in March, first in July, and sixth in September. France was able to promote two races in March, one each in July and August of 1941 prior to the war breaking out. The war brought a stop to motor sport racing and France went to work for the Daytona Boat Works while his wife handled the family filling station.
After the war Bill gave up racing and strictly concentrated on race promoting. He promoted races at the Seminole Speedway located in Casselberry, FL and built the Occoneechee Speedway in Hillsborough, NC, in 1947. France also realized that there were many unscrupulous and fly by night race promotes. Guys would hold a race and skip out of town without paying the tracks or drivers. There was also a hodgepodge of sanctioning bodies that had multiple focuses and were all over the board as far as rules and regulations. AAA the leading and largest sanctioning body in the United States was more focused on open wheel racing. There were several regional sanctioning bodies but none of them could agree on one uniform set of rules so drivers and teams couldn’t run their cars in different promotions or sanctioning bodies without major modifications.
The first meeting of the National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing (NASCAR) was held on December 12, 1947 at the Streamline Inn Motel in Daytona Beach, Florida with the aim of establishing an organization with a set of standard rules and regulations to help promote stock car racing, they named Bill France Sr. as their first President. The original plan was for NASCAR to oversee three separate and distinct classes of race cars: Strictly Stock Cars, Modified Stock Cars, and Roadsters. In the early days the modified and roadster were the most popular form of automobile racing although NASCAR fans rejected the roadsters seeing them as a Midwestern sport, so the class was dropped. NASCAR was incorporated on February 21, 1948 and held its first race at the Daytona Beach Road Course that month. The 1948 season ran on 52 dirt-tracks races with the modifieds as its top division. Red Byron won the national championship that year.
Marshall Teague Hustles his 39' Ford Around the Turns at the Beach Course
The Daytona International Speedway
By 1953 Bill France and NASCAR saw the need for a state of the art marquee track to showcase the sport of stock car racing. In 1950 the Darlington Raceway in Darlington, SC had opened and was billed as the first superspeedway for stock cars. Darlington was suitable for the time, but France had dreams of something bigger, a track that would rival the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He began plans for the Daytona International Speedway in 1953 and met with a Daytona Beach engineer named Charles Moneypenny to discuss design concepts. France wanted a track similar in design to the old wooden board tracks he had raced on, something with high banks that allowed cars to reach high speeds while still giving the fans a clear view of the action.
There was not a race track in the world like what Bill France was envisioning, however the Ford Motor Company had a track at the Ford Proving Grounds, in Detroit, Michigan that had high banks. Moneypenny paid a visit to the Ford facility and met with the design engineers of the track. They shared their engineering reports of the track and provided the needed details of how to transition the pavement from a flat straightaway to a banked corner. Moneypenny then brought his findings to France who was enthusiastic and immediately went to the Daytona Beach city commission, who supported the idea and formed the Daytona Beach Speedway Authority. The first thing the Speedway Authority did was lease a parcel of land next to the Daytona Beach Municipal Airport for the sum of $10,000 a year over a 50 year period.
The next step France had to take in realizing his dream was to find construction funding which he received from Texas oil millionaire, Clint Murchison who loaned $600,000 along with the construction equipment necessary to build the track. Additional funding for the project also came from Pepsi-Cola, General Motors designer Harley Earl, by re-mortgaging his own home and selling 300,000 stock shares to local residents.
Ground broke on the ambitious project on November 25, 1957. To build the high banking, crews had to dig out millions of tons of soil from the track's infield. The resulting hole was submerged due to the high water table in the area, creating an artificial lake. It was eventually dubbed Lake Lloyd, after Joseph "Sax" Lloyd, one of the original six members of the Daytona Beach Speedway Authority. The 29 acre lake was stocked with over 65,000 fish. Powerboat events would later be held on the lake until a powerboat racer was killed during an event in 1959.
Construction costs on the speedway began to spiral in part due to the difficulty of paving the steep inclines of the banking. A solution to this problem was found in connecting the paving equipment to bulldozers anchored at the top of the banking, allowing the surface to be created without equipment slipping or rolling down the incline. This technique was subsequently patented and later used in the construction of Talladega Superspeedway and Michigan International Speedway. Still there were funding shortages and France had to finance the final stages of construction through advanced ticket sales.
In anticipation of the opening of the new speedway the old Beach Road Course would host its final few major events. Banjo Mathews won the final 125 mile Sportsman/Modified race, while Curtis Turner won the final 160 mile Convertible race. In the final Strictly Stock race Paul Goldsmith started from the pole and won the event driving a Pontiac prepared by Ray Fox. Curtis Turner finished second followed by Jack Smith third, Joe Weathery fourth and Lee Petty rounding out the top five. The Daytona Speedweek time trials would continue on the beach sand course but not the adorning road through 1961 with time/distance records for the standing mile and flying mile in multiple classes being run. Then after nearly 60 years of speed and competition the Daytona Beach and Road Course was no more.
The Final Race at the Daytona Beach Road Course
The Inaugural Daytona 500
The 1959 First Annual 500 Mile NASCAR International Sweepstakes at Daytona was held on February 22, 1959 and was the first 500 mile automobile race held on the 2.5 mile speedway with nearly 42,000 spectators in attendance. Cotton Owens had the fastest qualifying speed of 143.198 mph. There were two 100 mile qualifying races held earlier in the week, one for convertibles and one for hard tops. Bob Welborn won the Grand National qualifying race and would start from the pole. Shorty Rollins won the Convertible qualifying race and would start the 500 in second. There were 20 convertibles and 39 hard tops entered in the race.
Bob Welborn took the early lead but dropped out after 75 laps with engine problems. Tom Pistone and Joe Weatherly were also early leaders. Fan favorite Fireball Roberts took the lead on lap 23 and led the next 20 laps before dropping out on lap 57 with a broken fuel pump. Johnny Beauchamp assumed the lead before being overtaken by Pistone and Jack Smith. These two would battle it out for the next 100 miles. During the final 30 laps of the race Lee Petty and Beauchamp would duel , being the only two cars remaining on the lead lap. Petty took the lead with 3 laps left and was still leading at the beginning of the final lap. Petty and Beauchamp crossed the finish line side by side for a photo finish. Beauchamp was declared the unofficial winner but Petty protested the finish. It took NASCAR three days to decide the winner and in the end Lee Petty was awarded the victory after review of photographs and newsreel footage. The race was now official with a time of 3 hours 41 minutes and 22 seconds with an average speed of 135.521 mph, the event was caution free with 31 of the 59 starters running at the end. Joe Lee Johnson was the highest finishing convertible with a 16th place finish.
Petty Declared "500" Winner!!!
The Great American Race
After the success of the inaugural Daytona 500 the race would become known as the Great American Race and be regarded as the as the most important and prestigious race on the NASCAR calendar. Since 1982 it has been the season opening event on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule and serves as the final event of Speedweeks. The winner of the “500” is presented the Harley J. Earl Trophy. A trophy named in honor of Harley Earl an influential automotive designer who also served as the second commissioner of NASCAR. The winning race car is enshrined at the Daytona 500 Experience museum for a period of one year.
Qualifying for the Daytona 500 is unique in that only the two front row starters are determined by the standard knockout qualifying system. For all other drivers it only determines their starting position in their duel with odd placed cars being entered into the first duel and even placed cars going in the second. After the Top 2 positions are locked in, the next 30 places of starting grid of the Daytona 500 is set by the finishing order of these two races with the top 15 (excluding pole winner and outside pole) making up the next 15 places on the inside and outside lanes respectively. After the Duels are completed the four fastest non-qualifiers by time and finally the six or seven highest-earning teams in points not in the race yet advance (also set by time), and the starting grid for the Daytona 500 would then be set. The order is still subject to change if engine regulations are violated.
When most think of Speedweeks they think of all the practice, qualifying, and racing that leads up to their conclusion at the Daytona 500. But the history of Speedweeks predates the Daytona International Speedway itself. It all began in the early 1900’s when, business tycoon Henry Flagler was a real estate promoter, railroad developer and partner of John D. Rockefeller at Standard Oil. He was instrumental in the development of the State of Florida and founded the Florida East Coast Railway. The railway ran from Ormond Beach to Miami. Rockefeller wintered at Ormond Beach and when Flagler built a hotel there, he proposed racing on the beach as a promotion. A weeklong event called the Winter Carnival was organized by the Ormond Hotel. It was a week of speed time trials held by pioneering automotive enthusiast. This event would later become known as Speedweek and eventually evolve into Speedweeks as we know today.
Speedweeks informally kicks off in early January when the United Sports Car Championship conducts a test session on the Daytona road course in preparation for the 24 Hours of Daytona Endurance race. The event is nicknamed the “Roar Before the 24”. The Rolex 24 is the first major event of Speedweeks and is held during the final weekend of January. Following the Rolex 24 there is no activity on the racetrack for the next two weeks giving officials ample time to clean and prepare the facilities for the arrival of the stock cars.
The nine days leading up to and including the Daytona 500 are the highlight of Speedweeks. Major events include practice and qualifying for the ARCA Series, Truck Series, Xfinity Series, and Sprint Cup Series, along with the running of the ARCA 200, Sprint Unlimited Exhibition Race, the Twin Duel races, the Truck Series 250, Xfinity Series 300, and the grand daddy of them all the Daytona 500.
Other events include the Daytona 5K Run & Fun Walk which is held prior to the start of the Rolex 24. Nearby tracks New Smyrana Speedway and Volusia Speedway also run special events in conjunction with the Daytona Speedweeks. New Smyrna Speedway plays host to the annual World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing, featuring nine consecutive nights of racing that run in conjunction with Daytona Speedweeks.
The Road Course
The 3.87 mile road course was built in 1959 and first hosted a three-hour sports car race called the Daytona Continental in 1962. In 1973, a sharp chicane was added at the end of the backstretch, approaching oval turn three. In 1984 and 1985,the layout was modified, re-profiling turns 1 and 2, and moving what is now turn 3 closer to its adjacent turns. In addition, the chicane on the backstretch was modified. A new entry leg was constructed approximately 400 feet earlier, resulting in a longer, three-legged, "bus stop" shape. Cars would now enter in the first leg, bypass the second leg, and exit out of the existing third leg. Passing would now be possible inside the longer chicane. The construction resulted in a final length of 3.81 miles for the complete road course. In 2003, the chicane was modified once again. The middle leg was repaved and widened, and now cars would enter through the first leg, and exit out of the second leg. The existing third leg was abandoned. This allowed cars a cleaner entry into oval turn three.
Other road course configurations include a motorcycle course where due to fears of severe tire wear on the banked oval sections oval turns 1 and 2 were bypassed giving the new course a length of 2.95 miles (4.75 km). The Daytona SportBikes that runs the Daytona 200 however uses the main road course except for the motorcycle hairpin which is tighter than the hairpin for cars.
In 2006 the Indy Car Series held a compatibility test on the 10-turn, 2.73-mile modified road course, and the 12-turn 2.95-mile motorcycle road course with 5 drivers. This marked the first time since 1984 that open wheel cars had taken to the track at Daytona. They would return in 2007 to conduct further compatibility tests involving 17 cars.
Sports Car Racing
The Daytona International Speedway has a rich a storied history in sports car racing. The first sports car race was held on April 5, 1959. It was a six hour/1000 kilometer race sanctioned by the USAC and the FIA. Count Antonio Von Dory and his co-driver Roberto Mieres won the race driving a Porshe. The race was shortened to 560 miles due to darkness.
In 1962 a 3-hour sports car race was held. Known as the Daytona Continental, it counted towards the FIA’s International Championship for GT Manufactures. The race was won by Dan Gurney, driving a Lotus powered Coventry Climax. In 1964 the event distance was increased to 2,000 km. The race distance was roughly half that of the classic 24 hour race at Le Mans and had a similar length to the 12 Hours of Sebring, also contested in Florida. Starting in 1966 the race was increased to its current length of 24 hours.
24 Hours of Daytona
The 24 Hours of Daytona differs from its 24 hour counterpart at Le Mans in that it is conducted entirely over a closed course within the speedway arena without the use of any public streets. Most parts of the steep banking are included, interrupted with a chicane on the back straight and a sweeping, fast infield section which includes two hairpins. Another notable difference between the two races is that the 24 Hours of Daytona is held in wintertime, when nights are at their longest. There are lights installed around the circuit for night racing, although the infield section is still not as well-lit as the main oval. However, the stadium lights are turned on only to a level of 30%,similar to the stadium lighting setup at Le Mans, with brighter lights around the pit straight and decent lighting similar to street lights around the circuit.
The first 24 hour event held in 1966 was won by Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby, piloting a Ford Mk. II. The following year Ferrari would dominate the event in their P-Series Prototype earning a 1-2-3 finish in the prestigious event. Porsche would win in similar fashion during the 1968 race posting their own 1-2-3 finish. Lola had success in the 1969 race finishing 1-2 running a Penske Lola T70 Chevrolet driven by Mark Donohue and Chuck Parsons. Despite the on-track action few spectators attended the 24 hour races.
The 1972 energy crisis caused the race to be shortened to 6 hours while the 1974 event was cancelled altogether. In 1982 the FIA decided to drop the 24 Hours of Daytona from its World Sports Car Championship as a cost cutting measure focusing on running shorting races in Europe, however the race continued as part of the IMSA GT Championship.
Several ownership changes within IMSA resulted in the 24 Hour race being aligned with the upstart Grand-AM series by the 1990’s. Grand-AM was a competitor to the then leading American Le Mans Series, which used the same rules and regulations as the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Grand-AM series however was more aligned with NASCAR and was eventually bought out by NASCAR in 2008, but would continue to be run by IMSA.
Cost cutting measures caused the introduction of new rules in 2002. A new class of prototype race car was introduced dubbed the Daytona Prototypes (DP). These cars were constructed of less expensive materials and technologies and the car's had simple aerodynamics reducing developmental and testing costs as opposed to the more expensive and technologically advanced cars now being run at Le Mans. The Daytona Prototypes made their first appearance at Daytona in 2003.
The GT class of cars has also played a prominent role in sports car racing at Daytona. This class of cars is very similar in appearance to their road going brethren and a very similar to the GT3 classes of cars competing internationally. The major difference being the permanence of spaceframe cars clad in lookalike body panels The intent of spaceframe cars is to allow teams to save money, especially after crashes, where teams can rebuild the cars for the next race at a much lower cost, or even redevelop cars, instead of having to write off an entire car after a crash.
The Rolex 24 Preview
Other Forms of Motorsports
During its famed history the Daytona International Speedway has hosted a number of other forms of motor sports at the track in addition to stock cars and sports cars.Historically the Daytona 200 Super Bike race has been one of the toughest in American motorcycling because of its endurance-like qualities of pit stops for tires and fuel, and safety car periods, and nine FIM world champions, including seven 500cc/MotoGP World Champions—six Americans and one Italian—have won the race. The track has also hosted powerboat races and Indy Cars.
Indy Cars at Daytona
It is a forgotten fact that Indy Cars have raced at the Daytona International Speedway, way back in 1959. The initial test for Indy Cars took place during the 1959 Speedweeks, with cars reaching the unheard of speed of 170 mph. Two time stock car champion Marshall Teague was the first fatality at the speedway when he was killed while testing his Indy Car. He ran speeds in excess of 171 mph driving the radical Sumar Streamliner that featured an enclosed cockpit and fenders over the wheels. There were no indications of mechanical failure and eyewitnesses say the car appeared to list and the nose went downhill and dug itself into the ground. The car then hurtled into the air tearing the cockpit loose from the chassis and travelling airborne for 150 feet with Teague in it killing him instantly.
Despite the disaster USAC returned two months later for what was scheduled to be a 100-mile National Championship event to take place on Saturday April 4, 1959. Unfortunately practice for the race was a preview of things to come. Al Keller, Jerry Unser and Bob Veith all took wild rides and experienced what had to be the first signs of aerodynamics in an Indy Car. Keller spun several times down the front straightaway after the rear end of his roadster lifted off the ground. He told reporters he had to be going close to 180 mph prior to the incident. Bob Veith was hospitalized when he injured his shoulder after crashing down the backstretch and flipping into the infield when a gust of wind turned his car sideways causing him to lose control.
Dick Rathmann put his roadster on the pole at the spectacular speed of 173.210 mph. This was a significant feat since the qualifying speed for the 1959 Indianapolis 500 would only be 145.908 mph set by Johnny Thompson. The Daytona qualifying speed would not be exceeded at Indianapolis for another 12 years at when Peter Revson set the new track record of 178.696 in 1971.
Jim Rathmann and Roger Ward dominated the 40 lap race putting on exciting side by side racing. Rathmann led the first six laps before Ward took command, only to yield back on lap 11. Rathmann would lead the rest of the way but Ward stayed close throughout. The race was a fast but safe one with Dempsey Wilson’s spin into the infield on lap 28 being the only incident.
As Rathmann took the white flag trouble was brewing back in the pack. George Amick and Bob Christie were having a pitched battle for third switching positions for almost half the race. On the final lap exiting turn two Christie ran Amick hard into the corner and Amick did not make it. Its unknown what happened to Amick’s car but its speculated that a gust of wind caught the car or he turned too sharply. Regardless of circumstances Amick’s car knifed into the guardrail, shearing off both front wheels as it sailed upside down for approximately 900 feet before landing in the infield. The front end was severed from the car killing Amick instantly.
Christie finished 3rd and Amick was credited with 4th. Rathmann won the race with an unheard of average speed of 170.261 mph taking 35 minutes and 14 seconds to complete. He collected $6,400 in prize money for his efforts. Despite the excitement of the race USAC and its Indy Cars never returned to Daytona. Even by 1959 standards the track was just too fast and dangerous to safely run Indy Cars. The scheduled July 4th race was subsequently cancelled thus closing the book on Indy Cars at Daytona. (At least for the foreseeable future…..)