Daytona International Speedway is one of the most historic and well known race tracks in motorsports history, and has been the home to NASCAR's most famous race since its opening 1959.
The history of racing at Daytona actually goes back longer than that though.
Much longer than that.
While browsing the always entertaining HAMB forums, I came across a thread full of vintage photos from the old Daytona Beach Road Course. Seeing as how the 2012 Daytona 500 is just a few days away, I thought it'd be fitting to share some of these cool old shots.
Through its decades of use, the Daytona Beach Road Course saw both the pioneering days of stock car racing…
…as well as early land speed racing – much like Bonneville and El Mirage in the west.
Long before the modern speedway opened, Daytona Beach had secured itself as a
legendary spot in the history of both motor racing and the automobile
The vehicles that plyed the sands of Daytona searching for speed included everything from the Stutz Blackhawk Special of the late 1920s…
…to untold numbers of production cars looking to squeeze out the last MPH. In other words, Hot Rodding at its purest.
Speaking of Hot Rodding, In 1957 Daytona was also the place where Wally Parks drove Hot Rod Magazine's "Suddenly" '57 Plymouth project car to a ground-breaking top speed of 160.175 mph.
If we consider stock car racing in the '60s and '70s dangerous by today's standards, imagine how scary it was on the sands of Daytona.
That seemingly fearless attitude of the drivers is another element that adds to the mystique of Daytona.
Without being there, it's hard to grasp what wheel to wheel racing on the Daytona sand must have been like.
Based on these old photos, it almost seems closer to rally racing than to modern stock car racing.
The corners at the end of the course were tight, and with the racing surface I'm sure there were lots of sideways antics.
It was on the long smooth straights though, were Daytona earned its reputation as a paradise for speed junkies.
The early Thunderbird was a popular car among land speed racers at Daytona. Some were campaigned largely in showroom condition…
…while others received significant upgrades to enhance their performance and aerodynamic profile.
To me there's something great about these period photos. I could spend hours and hours looking at them.
This Corette was raced by a gal named Betty Skelton. What a quintessentially American image.
American automakers also used Daytona as a proving ground for their latest cars. Few models were more associated with Daytona Beach speed than the Chrysler 300.
Stock cars, in every sense of the word.
While today's Sprint Cup cars are spread between just a few models, in the early days you'd see many different brands represented. Few could afford to upgrade their car every season, so it was also common to see older models competing right alongside the current ones.
Body style made seemed to make no real difference either. Want to compete in a convertible or even a station wagon? Go for it.
Contact on the sand between a Chrysler and a Dodge, while a Ford swerves to avoid.
In the 1950s, with increasing crowds and growing development along Daytona Beach, the ground was laid for the permanent Daytona International Speedway.
Once the new track opened in 1959, racing on the sands of Daytona Beach became another closed chapter in the long history of auto racing in America.
LOVE IT! Back when Nascar was racing, the cars were factory platforms and each one different! So much better than the cookie cutter bullshit they call racing now. It may currently be the largest spectartor sport in the U.S. but it is NOT the defining automotive sport that the general public makes it out to be.
Nice article! A part of racing history I never knew about, Australia too has it's fantastic and sometimes literal road courses that have now past from history to folklore. Love seeing the cars being well used, what type of car is the #29 car above the comparison to rallying? I can't for the life of me pick it!
Actually, in 1922 an American/Norwegian guy called Sig Haugdahl posted a speed-record of over 180 mph. Only problem was that he was not a member of the right automobile-club at the time and his record wasn't legal :p
Awesome post, thanks for compiling these Mike! I was in Daytona Beach a few months ago and I got to drive on the sand...images of stock cars flying down the sand constantly filled my head. The original runway for the Daytona Beach Airport used to be on the beach too!
wow looks excitingly dangerous.. you had to be a real driver back then, no matter what you drove! Thanks for the trip down an 'awesome' and i bet 'thrilling' memory lane!
This is cool, I'm glad u shared these. It's too bad NASCAR has lost so much respect for its heritage.
@Comment Sigurd " Sig" Haugdahl driver of the Wisconsin Special, 16 ft. long from the radiator to the tail and 20 inches wide and Sig's motor selection was an airplane engine that ran at 250 horse power. He was a member of the International Motor Contest Association ( IMCA) and not the AAA. The mile was measured, stop watches checked, Mayor Daley, A US Senator and an entire crowd gathered to watch Sig break Tommy Milton's old record of 156 MPH. On April 6, 1922 Sigurd Haugdahl drove his Wisconsin Special to an official 180.27 MPH. For my entire life I have been trying to correct this misconception that Sig didn't break the world's record when he did and it was an unquestionably, authentic record. Let's put it this way, there were two racing sanctions in those days, the AAA and the IMCA. There were racers belonged to the IMCA but more belonged to the AAA. Just because one belongs to or dosen't belong to a group dosen't mean he didn't set the record. Sig raced under the IMCA for years and was their top driver from 1927 to 1932. In 1936 when all of the famous race car drivers went to the salt flaths to break land speed records Daytona lost all of the racers as well as the fans. Sig was approached by the Daytona City Council to help promote a race and get the fans back to Daytona. Sig designed a 3.2 mile track that went on the beach cut through the sand dunes on AIA and back. He also promoted the race on March 8, 1936. While it wasn't a perfect race with perfect racing conditions as it had rained, the fact is that day brought racers and fans back to Daytona. It has been said on an interview on the Speed Channel and in a book written by William R. Tuthill, " Speed on Sand" ..." Sig proposed a race course that was not only unusual in concept and design but would someday affect the entire future of automobile and motorcycle rcaing in America and keep Daytona Beach in the spotlight as spped capital of the world" ( Tuthill, 2002). Mr. Tuthill was a racing Historian for the Daytona /Ormond Beach Beach Historical Society. Till the day I die I will get this misconception reversed.
Actually on February 18, 2014 my family are invited to Daytona Beach for a VIP viewing of a documentary film '' Hoppin Rattlesnakes" . It covers racing from 1903-1958 that myself, granddaughter of Sig and my dad, son of Sig ( 86 years old) were interviewed, and we set the record straight as well as Buz McKim, who is the Historian for NASCAR. He set the record straight in the documentary. I have been trying to get my grandfather inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, well see because it's a bunch of politics. I am also in the middle of writing a book, a Biographical Memoir of my grandfather Sigurd Haugdahl. Just trying to set the record straight!