From sands to stands this town has a rich past, and this year one prime race hits its half-century | Writer Peter Higham
Daytona Beach was already famous for speed record attempts and a stock car race when the new Daytona International Speedway was opened in 1959. Bluebird topped 330mph here in 1925, and races were held on the sands after WWII.
With increasing traffic and development making beach racing difficult, NASCAR founder Bill France drew up plans for a new permanent racing facility. With a 2.5-mile tri-oval and infield road course, sports car racing was a feature from the very beginning.
A 12-hour race opened the 1964 and 1965 Championship of Makes; for the following season it was doubled in duration. Since 1966, the Daytona 24 Hours has traditionally been the first major US event of the year, except 1972 when the oil crisis reduced it to six hours and 1974 when it was cancelled. A WSC round until 1981, it has since been part of the IMSA, Grand-Am and now United Sports Car series.
Ford won the first 24-hour race in 1966, as well as Sebring and Le Mans that year. As with the French classic, Porsche is the most successful marque here, with 18 victories since Vic Elford, Jochen Neerpasch, Jo Siffert, Rolf Stommelen and Hans Herrmann shared the winning 907 in 1968. The most successful drivers are Hurley Haywood and Scott Pruett at five wins apiece.
Chip Ganassi Racing has been the most successful team in the past decade scoring six victories with its regular drivers augmented by visiting NASCAR and IndyCar stars such as Juan Pablo Montoya, Dario Franchitti, Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon.