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Continued: The Daytona Beach Area’s Proud Racing Heritage

On March 7, 1935, just four days shy of his 50th birthday, Campbell posted an unprecedented official speed of 276.82 miles per hour. It would be Campbell's last world land speed run on the sands of Daytona Beach. The following year he attained the 300 mile per hour mark at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. That year also marked the final year of the beach speed runs. This chapter of speed would close, but its remarkable history of setting new precedents is remembered and commemorated along Daytona Beach's Boardwalk amusement area. The 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 historic 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 in its new exhibit – The Racing Zone.

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 is France who would usher in a new era of speed.

Though he was a banker, Bill France was also a skilled mechanic who was fascinated with the newspaper and newsreel accounts about new speed records broken year after year in Daytona Beach. Though he had intended to move to Miami with his wife and son, he enjoyed the beauty of Daytona and Ormond Beach so much that he remained. He set up shop, purchased an Amoco Gas Station, and became a permanent resident.

In the mid-1930s, stock car racing on the beach became popular, and France was one of those original stock car drivers, finishing fifth in the inaugural beach race in 1936. During World War II, the nation's attention shifted to the war effort. France labored in the boatyard located off South Beach Street, building submarine chasers for the U.S. Navy. Though there was no automobile racing in any form from 1941-1947, interest in the sport re-awakened and evolved in the post-war prosperity.

Starting in the late '40s, France climbed out of the driver's seat and began a successful career as a race promoter, beginning with a motorcycle race which drew 184 riders and the largest group of spectators ever seen on the beach. The event also piqued the interest of other race promoters.

Meeting in a Daytona Beach motel, France and 18 other members of the racing industry formed the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), the sanctioning body for stock car racing, on December 14, 1947. France served as the organization's president.

The following year France opened a new 4.1 mile stretch of beach track located near Ponce Inlet which also utilized a paved straightaway portion of Highway A1A. Today, racing fans can view the site of the original first turn at Racing’s North Turn, an open-air seafood restaurant. Beach racing artifacts and videos can be viewed at the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse Museum located at the southern-most tip of the area.

France's track was a roaring success and large crowds congregated at the site for a decade to see the races. Over the course of time, France maintained a vision of stock car racers professionally engaging in the sport on a specially designed challenging course.

In 1959, France's vision became reality with the completion of construction of a high-banked 2.5-mile tri-oval track known as Daytona International Speedway.

The first Daytona 500 was run on February 22, 1959. More than 41,000 fans witnessed a race with a similar ending to the race run between Olds and Winton in 1903. Initially, the race was too close to call and Johnny Beauchamp celebrated the "unofficial" victory that day, but Lee Petty was named the winner three days later after countless reviews of newsreel film.

Over the last four decades, NASCAR racing has continued to grow in popularity. More than 200,000 race fans attend the association's premier race, the Daytona 500, which is now nationally televised. Competition remains fierce, with the margin of victory totaling just seconds! In addition to the Daytona 500, which is held each February, and the Pepsi 400 held annually in July, major motorcycle races are staged in both March and October at the speedway. In December, go-kart racers from around the world zoom around the speedway's road course.

The first Daytona 500 was run on February 22, 1959
The first Daytona 500 was run on February 22, 1959



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Source: Daytona Beach CVB; magazineUSA.com
Last modified: 20070426
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