Our Competitive Side: Racing
The Daytona Beach area knows racing, and the racing world knows Daytona Beach! From the historic beach time trials at the turn of the 20th century to the present day Daytona 500 competitions featuring famous drivers such as Dale Earnhart Jr., Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon, the Daytona Beach area remains synonymous with speed.
The early roots of the sport can be traced back to Ormond Beach and a historic 1903 race between Ransom E. Olds - father of the Oldsmobile - and Alexander Winton. Winton beat Olds in that first sanctioned time trial, known as the Ormond Challenge Cup, and the rest, as they say, is history. Time trials continued for several years, and before long this sleepy little winter resort town garnered its place in history as "The Birthplace of Speed."
Throughout the late 1920s and 1930s significant historical milestones in speed were made, and Daytona Beach became the proving ground for man and machine. One of the world's most famous moments in motorsports came in 1935 when Englishman Sir Malcolm Campbell posted an unprecedented official one-mile speed of 276.82 miles per hour - on the beach! Campbell's 29-foot long mechanical marvel, the "Bluebird V," weighed 12,000 pounds and looked much like a modern-day "Batmobile." It was propelled by a monstrous 2,227 cubic inch supercharged V-12 Rolls Royce engine. The vehicle currently sits proudly in the Daytona 500 Experience at Daytona International Speedway, where it has been restored to its former glory.
One of the spectators at Campbell's 1935 run was a man named William "Big Bill" Henry Getty France, a former Washington banker who had moved to Daytona Beach the previous year. It was France who would usher in a new era of speed, and his family that would grow the sport to where it is today.
In the late 1940s, France began a successful career as a race promoter. Meeting at the Streamline Motel in Daytona Beach on December 14, 1947, he and 18 other members of the racing industry formed the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), a sanctioning body for stock car racing. France served as the organization's president.
The following year France opened a new 4.1-mile stretch of race track that ran north along the beach and south on Highway A1A, near Ponce Inlet. Today, visitors can view the site of the original North Turn at the Racing's North Turn open-air seafood restaurant, which is chock-full of racing memorabilia -- as well as the South Turn, which is located in Ponce Inlet. Both Highway A1A locations are designated with informational Historical Markers. Another artifact from the old days of racing is an actual piece of the south course pavement, now located inside the world-famous Daytona 500 Experience motorsports attraction.
In 1959, France completed his vision with the opening of the high-banked 2.5-mile tri-oval track known as Daytona International Speedway. The first Daytona 500 was run on February 22, 1959, and the race has increased in popularity ever since.
The area documents many of these racing milestones. The Daytona Beach Boardwalk's Salute to Speed exhibit features more than 30 granite plaques commemorating the area's rich motorsports history. Also located on the Boardwalk, the historical Sir Malcolm Campbell Clocktower stands as a tribute to his record-setting achievements. Memorabilia from the early days of racing can also be found at the Halifax Historical Museum in Daytona Beach and the Living Legends of Auto Racing Museum in South Daytona.
The past, present and future of racing is alive and well in our community. Along with year-round racing activities at Daytona International Speedway, the area hosts exciting weekly racing action at two nearby tracks -- the Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville and the New Smyrna Speedway in New Smyrna Beach.