Daytona Beach Road Course
Daytona Beach, Florida
World speed records
Daytona Beach's wide beach and smoothly packed sands at low tide were opened to drivers for many years. The beach was used for the high-speed testing and racing of motorcycles and the newfangled “horseless carriages”. This made the beach a mecca for racing enthusiasts. Fans enjoyed watching the events while standing on grass-covered sand dunes a short distance on-shore.
The first timed run on the beach was a solo run by Ransom E. Olds. In 1903, rich automobile pioneers Olds (Oldsmobile and REO Motor Car Company founder) and Alexander Winton (Winton Motor Carriage Company) staged an unofficial event at nearby Ormond Beach; Winton beat Olds by only 0.2 seconds. The first organized event was sanctioned and timed by the American Automobile Association in 1903. The weeklong "Winter Carnival" event was organized by the Ormond Hotel. The top speed was 68.198 miles per hour (mph).
The beach portion of the course became famous as the premier location to attempt to set the land speed record. The sanctioning body built a clubhouse in 1905 which was just over the line in Daytona Beach, so newspapers credited Daytona Beach as hosting the races. At least thirteen organized events were held between 1905 and 1935, and Daytona Beach quickly became synonymous with speed.
Fifteen land speed records were set at the site between January 24, 1905 and March 7, 1935. Drivers to set records at Daytona include Arthur MacDonald, Ralph DePalma, Henry Segrave, Ray Keech, and Sir Malcolm Campbell who set the last record of 276.82 mph (445.50 km/h). In 1935, drivers began using the more consistent surface of the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. The 500 feet (150 m)-wide beach at Daytona was too narrow to accommodate the higher speeds.
Frank Lockhart won the 1926 Indianapolis 500 in his first race on a paved track. Lockhart regularly set records at every track he went to, so he decided to attempt a new land speed record. He set a new record of 174 mph (280 km/h) with one of his 91 cubic inch engines at Muroc Dry Lakes. He decided to install both of his 91 cubic inch engines to make an attempt for the 122 to 183 cubic inch record. On April 25, 1928, he easily broke the existing record by running 198.29 mph (319.12 km/h). On his return run he blew a tire on a sharp object and his Stutz-sponsored "Black Hawk Special" flew in the air, killing Lockhart.
On March 11, 1929, Henry Segrave set the world speed record at 231.44 mph (372.47 km/h), beating Ray Keech's record set in 1928 in the White Triplex. The Triplex, its owner J. M. White, and Keech were on hand. White approached Keech to make an attempt to get the record back, but Keech declined. White found Daytonan Lee Bible to attempt to break the new record in the Triplex. Bible took practice runs and then a run for the record. Something went wrong in his second attempt, and the 1,500 horsepower (1,100 kW) Triplex swerved. The machine rolled, throwing Bible to his death. The Triplex then flew into cameraman Charles Traub, who died instantly too.
Records Set at Daytona Beach
History of Sports Cars – Speed Records at Daytona Beach
Posted on August 5, 2011 by Art Evans, Sports Car Digest
When younger motor racing enthusiasts think of Daytona, images of stock cars on the International Speedway come to mind. But older folks remember that Daytona Beach was a site for setting early land-speed records.
The history of racing at the beach extends almost to the turn of the last century when cars themselves were in their infancy. Famous automobile personalities of yore participated including Barney Oldfield, Ralph De Palma, Ransom Olds, Henry Ford and the Stanley Brothers.
In 1970, I was sent on a photo shoot to Florida; the assignment included going to the Daytona 500. Because I had not obtained credentials in advance, I was ushered into the office of Bill France, Sr. Since I had previously raced sports cars, we had a short and interesting chat. I found him most affable and I was given a pass to go almost anywhere. Bill told me that oval races at Daytona Beach were as old as record attempts and that the Speedweek predated the Indy 500.
There is a three-mile length of sand extending from Ormond Beach south to Daytona Beach. The area encompasses both beaches, but when the sanctioning body—the American Automobile Association—built a clubhouse just over the line in Daytona Beach; from then on the press credited Daytona Beach as the location for racing and record attempts.
The 23-mile straight stretch of hard-packed sand is approximately 500 feet wide at low tide. It’s bordered on one side by the ocean and on the other by grass-tufted dunes that provide ideal locations for spectators to observe whatever is going on. Although seemingly ideal for racing, the condition of the sand varies due to the last high tide. Wind conditions can also affect the surface.
Tycoon Henry Flagler was a real estate promoter, railroad developer and partner of John D. Rockefeller in Standard Oil. He was key to the development of Florida and founded the Florida East Coast Railway. The railway ran from Ormond Beach all the way to Miami. Rockefeller wintered at Ormond Beach. When Flagler built a hotel there, he proposed racing on the beach as a promotion.
Starting in 1903, land-speed record attempts, as well as oval-type racing, took place on the sand. Oval courses were delineated by barrels. Record runs were made on the straight stretches with posts marking each measured mile.
It was reported and even repeated in some histories that the first contest took place between Ransom Olds in his “Pirate” and Alexander Winton in his “Bullet” in April 1902. Some research, however, has claimed the date was perhaps wrong since neither car seems to have been built by April 1902. It remains a mystery why the myth was perpetuated; perhaps it was due to a typographic error.
At any rate, the first officially organized event took place on March 26, 1903 between Olds and Winton. 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. It was held during a weeklong event—the “Winter Carnival” organized by the Ormond Hotel. Thus was born what came to be called the “Speedweek,” eventually, the “Speedweeks.” As an aside, Winton is credited by many as the founder of the American automobile industry. He was the first to sell a gasoline-powered production car to a private individual on March 24, 1898.
The first Daytona record that appears in record books took place on January 27, 1904. William K. Vanderbilt sped over the measured mile in his Mercedes clocking 92.30 mph in 39 seconds. Millionaire Vanderbilt had been racing in Europe including the famous 1903 Paris to Madrid. In 1904, the first Vanderbilt Cup race took place on Long Island. Although sanctioned by the AAA, Vanderbilt’s record was not recognized by the FIA, the authority in Paris. It’s interesting to note that Henry Ford in his “Arrow” had set a new record of 91.37 mph earlier in January on the icy-surface of Lake St. Clair near Detroit
The next year, Arthur McDonald went 104.65 mph in his 90-hp Napier setting a new record for the beach. Again, the FIA refused recognition. The victory was marred, however, by Herbert Bowden who went 109.756 mph in his 120-hp Mercedes called the “Flying Dutchman.” But the car was overweight and disqualified.
In January 1906, 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 world record at Daytona Beach of 127 mph. This was even more notable because Marriott was an American driving in an American-built car. And lo and behold, the FIA accepted the car’s performance over the flying kilometer as a new land speed record. The record stood for three years.
Fifteen world records were set at Daytona Beach through March 1935, after which land speed record attempts were moved to the Bonneville Salt Flats. Malcolm Campbell, who had set a new record in his “Bluebird” of 272.46 at Daytona, broke the 300 mph barrier at Bonneville in September 1935. Record attempts in production cars, however, continued at Daytona into the fifties.
Although garnering the most attention, the Daytona Beach story doesn’t begin and end with speed records. There was wheel-to-wheel racing too on sand-packed ovals. Early on, the course length was a little over 3 miles, but later lengthened to 4.2 miles. In 1938, Bill France, Sr., who had moved to Dayton in 1935, took over the operation. (France himself also raced on the sand.) He formed NASCAR in 1948. The beach course had its final event in 1958. The next year, France’s triangular 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway opened its doors, or gates, as it were.
The complete story of Daytona Beach rates a book, not a short article. Unlike other race venues, you can experience it yourself. For a small user-fee, you can drive on the beach from February through November. (Don’t get too excited; there’s a speed limit of 10 mph and you share the beach with sunbathers, pedestrians and wildlife.) And if you have a vintage car, you can take part in the annual parade on the beach held during Speedweeks. Also, visit the Halifax Historical Society and Museum at 252 S. Beach St. and view the Lawson Diggett racing collection.
Beach & road course
The course started at the north turn on the pavement of highway A1A (at 4511 South Atlantic Avenue). A restaurant named "Racing's North Turn" now stands at that location. It went south two miles (3 km) on A1A (parallel to the ocean) to the end of the road, where the drivers accessed the beach at the Beach Street approach (the south turn), went two miles (3 km) north on the sandy beach surface, and turned away from the beach at the north turn. The lap length in early events was 3.2 miles (5.1 km), and it was lengthened to 4.2 miles (6.8 km) in the late 1940s. In the video game Nascar Thunder 2004 by EA Sports, the course is shortened to about half its distance, but still shows how the course basic setup was like.
Daytona Beach officials asked local racer Sig Haugdahl to organize and promote an automobile race along the 3.2-mile (5.1 km) course in 1936. Haugdahl is credited for designing the track. The city posted a $5,000 purse. The ticket-takers arrived at the event on March 8 to find thousands of fans already at the track. The sandy turns became virtually impassable, which caused numerous scoring disputes and technical protests. The event was stopped after 75 of 78 laps. Milt Marion was declared the winner by the AAA (the sanctioning body). Second place finisher Ben Shaw and third place finisher Tommy Elmore protested the results, but their appeal was overturned. France finished fifth in the event. The city lost a reported $22,000, and has not promoted an event since.
Haugdahl talked with France, and they talked the Daytona Beach Elks Club to host another event in 1937. The event was more successful, but still lost money. Haugdahl didn't promote any more events.
France took over the job of running the course in 1938. There were two events that year. Danny Murphy beat France in the July event, which made $200. France beat Lloyd Moody and Pig Ridings to win the Labor Day weekend event, this time making $20,000.
There were three races in 1939 and three races in 1940. France finished fourth in March, first in July, and sixth in September.
Lloyd Seay finished fourth in the July 27, 1941 event after rolling twice. He returned on August 24 that year to win the event. He was killed by a family member in a dispute over the family moonshine business.
France was busy planning the 1942 event, until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. France spent World War II working at the Daytona Boat Works. Most racing stopped until after the war. Car racing returned to the track in 1946.
France knew that promoters needed to organize their efforts. Drivers were frequently victimized by unscrupulous promoters who would leave events with all the money before drivers were paid. On December 14, 1947 France began talks at the Ebony Bar at the Streamline Hotel at Daytona Beach, Florida that ended with the formation of NASCAR on February 21, 1948. The Daytona Beach Road Course hosted the premiere event of the fledgling series until Darlington Speedway was completed in 1950.
NASCAR race results
The first NASCAR Strictly Stock (now Sprint Cup) race was held in 1949 at the Charlotte Speedway. The second race on the series schedule was held at Daytona Beach in July. 28 cars raced, including Curtis Turner, Buck Baker, Bob Flock, Fonty Flock, Marshall Teague, Herb Thomas, and second place finisher Tim Flock. Red Byron won for his fourth win at the track in the decade. Byron went on to win the series’ first championship in his 1949 Oldsmobile.
The Strictly Stock series was renamed the Grand National Series. The race is moved to February, which becomes a tradition still held to this day with the modern Daytona 500. Harold Kite won the race in a 1949 Lincoln. He took the lead on lap 25 when Red Byron pitted with gear shift problems. Kite led the rest of the way. Byron surged from seventh to finish second. A second race is added to the weekend, the 100-mile (160 km) Modified Stock race, the day before. Gober Sosebee wins.
Marshall Teague glided his 1951 Fabulous Hudson Hornet into victory lane for his first career victory. He beat Tim Flock by 1 minute and 14 seconds. Gober Sosebee wins the Modified Stock race for the second year in a row.
Marshall Teague made it two in a row in his 1952 Hudson. Teague gained the lead on lap two. The race was shortened by two laps because of an incoming tide. Teague won by 1 minute and 21 seconds over Herb Thomas. A day earlier, Tim Flock wins the Modified/Sportmen race.
Polesitter Bob Pronger and second place starter Fonty Flock had a bet as to who would lead the first lap. They both raced wildly into the north corner. Pronger went too fast into corner, and wrecked his car. Flock had over a one minute lead in the race, but ran out of gas taking the white flag at the start of the final lap. Flock’s teammate pushed his car into the pits. Bill Blair passed to win the race in a 1953 Oldsmobile. Flock finished second by 26 seconds.
136 cars started the 100-mile (160 km) Modified/Sportsman race that year, making it the largest field ever in any NASCAR sanctioned event. Cotton Owens is the victor.
The "Speedweeks" weekend is expanded to three events, the 100-mile (160 km) Sportsmen race, the 125-mile (201 km) Modified race, and the 160-mile (260 km) main event. Dick Joslin and Cotten Owens win the preliminaries, respectively. Tim Flock finished the main event first, but was disqualified on a minor technicality. Second place finisher Lee Petty edged out Buck Baker, and Petty was declared the winner of the 160-mile (260 km) contest. Flock became the first driver to have radio contact with his crew.
The 1955 race was won by Fireball Roberts. He was later disqualified, so the official win went to Tim Flock. Roberts was disqualified after NASCAR’s tech director found pushrods that were 0.016 inches (0.41 mm) too long.Fireball Roberts got the name Fireball because of his softball pitching speed.
Tim Flock won his second consecutive Daytona race from the pole in his 1956 Chrysler. The car was owned by legendary NASCAR car owner Carl Kiekhaefer. He led every lap except for the four after his first pit stop. Charlie Scott became the first African-American to compete in a NASCAR Grand National race, driving another Carl Kiekhaefer entered Chrysler.
The three-race weekend is revised with new preliminary formats. The first race is a 125-mile (201 km) Modifield/Sportsmen race, and the second is a 160-mile (260 km) Late Model Convertible event. Tim Flock and Curtis Turner are the victors.
In the main event, Cotton Owens moved from his third place starting position to lead the first lap. Paul Goldsmith took the lead briefly after 40 miles (of 160 miles). Goldsmith took the lead back from Owens after Owens pitted after 94 miles (151 km). Goldsmith’s quick pit stop gave him a lead that he maintained until he went out with a blown piston with 36 miles (58 km) left in the race. Owens led the rest of the way for his first career win. The win was the first NASCAR win for Pontiac, and the first Grand National race speed average over 100 mph (101.541 mph).
Paul Goldsmith started from the pole to win the final event at the course. He drove a Pontiac which was prepared by Smokey Yunick. Curtis Turner finished second, Jack Smith third, Joe Weatherly fourth. Lee Petty, Buck Baker, Fireball Roberts, and Cotton Owens finished in the top ten.
End of course
By 1953, France knew it was time for a permanent track to hold the large crowds that were gathering for races. Hotels were popping up all along the beachfront. On April 4, 1953, France proposed a new superspeedway called Daytona International Speedway. France began building a new 2.5-mile (4.0 km) superspeedway in 1956 to host the new premiere event of the series – the Daytona 500. In 1958, the Daytona Beach road course hosted its last event. The first Daytona 500 was held in 1959.
Video: NASCAR racing on Daytona Beach in 1952
However, some sources say that Flock was disqualified for a roll bar infraction (it was wood, in semi-official NASCAR lore) and the victory was awarded to Smith. Maybe an expert on early NASCAR history will step forward and school us on this point.
Wacky editing aside, this film excels in showing the raw and wild nature of racing on the beach in these years. There really isn’t anything quite like this today. Reportedly, 97 cars started the 100-mile free-for-all on the 4.1-mile beach course, and as far as we know, no one was killed that day—which is a miracle in itself. Watch this.