Sands of Time: Celebrating 100 Years of Racing at Daytona w/DVD

Sands of Time: Celebrating 100 Years of Racing at Daytona w/DVD

by William P. Lazarus

Other Format(BK & DVD)


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781582617848
Publisher: Sports Publishing LLC
Publication date: 03/28/2004
Edition description: BK & DVD
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 8.82(w) x 12.64(h) x 0.53(d)

About the Author

William P. Lazarus has taught religious history courses for 14 years. Mark Sullivan is a writer and editor who has studied comparative religion and philosophy extensively.

Read an Excerpt

The First Years

The wealth of racing history that permeates Daytona Beach masks its meager origins. At the turn of the 20th century, Daytona Beach was an isolated community located about 90 miles south of Jacksonville in east-central Florida. Few people had ever heard of it. No one thought racing would become its main industry. A long train ride was the best way to visit, although a boat might be found to carry an intrepid traveler. Cars were not much of an option 100 years ago. They only promised long, overland drives on shell-covered roads through mosquito-thick swamps. The long, hard beach was the ideal thoroughfare, although getting to it could require cutting through a palmetto forest or fording small streams.

Not many people were willing to hazard such a journey. Population estimates range from 4,000 to 6,000 people, picking up in the winter when a handful of cold Northerners straggled in to enjoy the warmer weather.

The few photographs from that era show unpaved, tree-lined streets, a few scattered homes, several stores and one large hotel situated a block from the Halifax River and less than a mile from the beach. That hotel became the key that would crank the engine of motorsports.

Bought in 1889 by financier Henry Flagler and expanded to cover 12 acres, the Hotel Ormond (later known as the Ormond Hotel) initially served as a luxury destination for wealthy tourists who took the Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Halifax River Railway along the east coast of Florida as far south as the Florida Keys. Flagler placed the hotel in Ormond Beach to spite Daytona Beach officials who declined to give in to his financial demands. Once the oldest wooden structure of its kind in the United States, the facility did not hold up well to time. Despite a spirited preservation effort by a handful of local residents, the hotel was torn down in 1992, four years after celebrating its 100th birthday, and replaced by a condominium.

In its early years, however, the Hotel Ormond served as the cornerstone of the community's meager tourist industry and was the hub of most of the community's social activities. Many events took place on the 100 yards of cypress-planked veranda, which stretched along the south side of the facility. Every important social leader who visited the area stayed there, including oil magnate John D. Rockefeller. He eventually purchased a mansion across the street-called The Casements and now a city museum-and visited the hotel via an underground tunnel.

Flagler, who partnered with Rockefeller to monopolize the oil industry in the 1800s, had turned to commercial real estate in his later years and was responsible for helping develop Jacksonville, West Palm Beach and Miami. Some of the tourists his trains carried to sunny Florida included pioneers in the fledgling automobile industry.

By then, racing had already gained a foothold in other parts of this country. While there weren't hundreds of races around the country every week, the few that had been held clearly demonstrated public interest. In 1894, Count De Dion won the first auto competition on a 78.75-mile road course between Paris and Rouen in France, driving at an average of about 11.6 mph. Some 19 cars participated in the event, which drew international attention. In 1895, Emile Levassor won the first long-distance race, averaging 15 mph on solid tires for the 740-mile jaunt between Paris and Bordeaux. In that race, Jules Michelin, who founded his namesake tire company in 1888 to create bicycle tires, tried to get drivers to use newly invented pneumatic tires for cars, but when everyone declined, he built his own car and entered it. Levassor thought Michelin's puffy tires were stuffed with cotton and demanded proof that air was inside. Someone promptly performed a field test with an ice pick.

In this country, on Thanksgiving day in 1895, J. Frank Duryea outraced several competitors from the heart of Chicago, Illinois 27.18 miles south to Evanston, then back through the snow to win in seven hours and 17 minutes, an average speed of 7.5 mph. His feat, too, attracted wide interest.

In 1901, an unknown, would-be car manufacturer, Henry Ford, demonstrated the importance of racing. He went one on one with Alexander Winton, a Scotsman who was then this country's foremost auto racer, in a 10-mile race in Grosse Point, Michigan. According to published Ford Motor Co. promotional material, Ford had never raced against another car and had failed in several previous attempts to start a car-manufacturing company. His vehicle, nicknamed Sweepstakes, was seriously out-powered. Race cars in those days normally had about 40 horsepower. Winton's car topped 70 horsepower. Sweepstakes had two cylinders and produced 26 horsepower.

However, Ford was hoping to demonstrate to the public that an efficient, lightweight car could outperform a big car. There was a lot at stake for him. The family car he eventually produced for worldwide use, the Model T, also generated 26 horsepower.

After other competitors dropped out prior to the start of the race, only Ford and Winton were left. The race length was reduced to accommodate the limited number of entries. While Ford fumbled through the early part of the abbreviated event, Winton led seven of the 10 laps and built up a big lead. Then, his engine started sputtering. Ford eventually passed him in front of the 8,000 fans in the grandstands that day and went on to win with an average speed of 45 mph.

The victory was worth $1,000 and a cut-glass punch bowl. More importantly, the unlikely win caught the eye of several financial investors who helped Ford start what became the Ford Motor Company in June 1903.

Naturally, even folks in distant Florida were intrigued by the possibilities of racing. Cars had been on the beach since C.W. Seamans drove onto the sand in 1900. Bike races had been held for several years as well.

A year after Ford was making a splash on the race track, C.W. Birchwood, a winter resident, wrote a letter to Automobile Magazine, which was published in its December 1902 issue. Birchwood extolled the virtues of driving-and racing-on the beach and wondered why no one else realized it.

The article attracted the attention of J.F. Hathaway, a Massachusetts native who was another winter resident of Florida. A retired businessman, Hathaway, who owned a Stanley Steamer, had already considered the concept. He noted that bicycle tracks left little impression on the sand, and began to send pictures and enticing articles to various automobile journals to try to drum up support for races. He also drove around Ormond Beach, incurring the wrath of at least one resident who labeled the car "a hell cart," according to a history of Ormond Beach. Author Alice Strickland said Hathaway's car later got stuck in the ocean and had to be pulled from the waves by a horse.

"Senator" William J. Morgan, a writer for Automobile Magazine, liked the idea enough to journey to Daytona Beach in February 1903. A native of South Wales who emigrated to Pennsylvania as a teenager, Morgan had picked up his nickname after hastily substituting for an actual U.S. senator who missed a speaking engagement. The loquacious journalist talked his magazine into funding his trip and, later, to sponsoring races on the beach.

Morgan did know something about racing, having sponsored a bike race on the beach in 1902, according to Strickland.

That's where the Hotel Ormond comes in. Hotel managers Joseph Price and John Anderson were always investigating ways to promote their facility. Ormond Beach was still considered "one thousand miles from anywhere," as one New York newspaper described it. In February 1903, Morgan met with Price and Anderson, whose name graces the tree-lined road that runs along the river to the west of the hotel's former site. He proposed running races on the beach on the theory that the people who came to the event would want to stay in the best accommodations. After all, a car was still a luxury item in those days. Only wealthy people owned them. Indeed, the races were originally limited to invitees only, so that "undesirable drivers and freak machines" would be "shut out," according to Strickland. That wouldn't change until 1905.

The two managers loved the idea of a car race. As a result, racing came to Ormond as a promotional gimmick for the sprawling, wooden hotel.

With "Senator" Morgan running the show, plans fell into place quickly. In March 26, 1903, barely a month after the initial discussions, the first beach races were held. Limited records have helped to muddy what should be a clear picture. Some historians, including NASCAR's Tuthill, have insisted the first race was actually held in 1902. So did Strickland.

Automobile Magazine said that the competitors "came back" in 1903 for the first officially sanctioned races. However, detailed studies by several writers, including Dick Punnett, an Ormond Beach resident, proved that the most famous participant, Alexander Winton, did not build the car he raced until mid-1902, too late to have participated in a spring race the previous year.

A history of Oldsmobile published on the Internet also gives the 1903 date.

The first Daytona races lasted three days and were an immediate success, despite some early mix-ups in communication. Hoping to establish credibility, Morgan tried to get the Jacksonville Automobile Association to sanction the event prior to the first green flag. He did not consider that local residents would form their own sanctioning body for the same purpose. As a result, Daytona Beach community leaders were furious with Morgan for bringing in an outside group to authorize the races. They threatened to block all activities. An array of apologetic telegrams softened any anger. Unfortunately, news of the confrontation had led to a cancellation announcement. Morgan acted quickly to send out news releases that the races were still on, but the damage had only been mitigated. Some drivers, caught in the middle and unsure whether or not to show up, simply stayed home.

Despite the limited field, the beach welcomed its first racers March 26.

That morning, the drivers drove onto the sand in Ormond Beach near what is now the end of East Granada Boulevard to start the time trials, heading south for Daytona Beach guided by poles-paid for by automobile pioneer Ransom Olds-placed every half mile to record distances. On the second day, the route was reversed because of inclement weather in the Ormond Beach area. The third day, Ormond Beach again was the starting point. Special timing equipment was brought in to make sure results were accurate.

Today, the Ormond Beach entrance on A1A is paved near the site of the vanished hotel and located off busy Granada Boulevard. A modern inn sits on the south side of the short entry with public facilities and a small park to the north. In 1903, none of that was there. Since there were only two hotels in the city-both owned by Flagler-the beach seemed desolate with vegetation covering the low dunes. Participants dressed in suits. Women spectators, clad in long dresses, described as "hideous motoring costumes" by Motor World, carried parasols, while the men were formally attired. No one ever seemed to smile. Apparently, racing was serious business.

For the most part, drivers competed against the clock, not each other. Olds, one of the first to be timed, told Winton, "You have no idea, Alex, what a thrill it is out there. Do you know what it feels like to go 50 miles an hour?" The comment was quoted by author William Neeley, who credited it erroneously to 1902 instead of 1903.

Hathaway also got into the act in 1903, driving his Stanley Steamer on two runs. Oscar Hedstrom, the Swedish-born chief designer of motorcycles for Hendee Manufacturing, made a single lap on an Indian motorcycle "straight as an arrow" according to a report published in 1903. He stopped the clock at 1:09, breaking the one-mile, motorcycle-speed record set in Staten Island, New York, the previous spring. Sand, however, clogged and snapped his chain, ending his effort after one ride.

Later, W.W. Austin won the "championship of Florida" after posting a time of 1:36 on his Indian motorcycle.

Raymond Boothroyd, a Hotel Ormond guest, was timed at 1:28.4 to win a sprint between three Oldsmobiles-then the most popular car in the country and sold under the memorable song "My Merrie Oldsmobile." Ironically, Oldsmobile, the second oldest nameplate in automobile history behind Mercedes, ceased production recently.

None of the competitors were actually race drivers. Two were simply local doctors wealthy enough to own cars.

The drivers quickly noted several benefits of driving on sand. First, there was no choking dust to fly up and infiltrate engines or to blind drivers and spectators alike. Moreover, the slightly damp surface actually helped cool the tires, reducing stress. On the other hand, tires tended to slip on the uneven surface. Winton, fresh from his loss to Ford, created treads by cutting notches in his tires. The most famous driver of his day, Winton in 1896 had sold the first gasoline-powered engine in this country.

His opponent, Horace Thomas, an engineer substituting for the delayed automobile pioneer Ransom Olds, opted to wrap his tires in cloth. He then set a new record in his Oldsmobile at 1:16.2 minutes.

By the time the third day of racing dawned, March 29, published reports had enticed thousands of spectators to fill in the soft sand away from the track.

"By 10 o'clock, the balconies and the long flights of steps up to the Coquina Hotel and the bathing pavilions were filled with ladies in the handsomest of light spring attire, while among them were men for a large part in straw hats and summer flannels. The entire country around and nearby Daytona had contributed scores of beach wagons and a dozen automobiles. Bicycles were on every hand. Winter tourists had stayed over for the automobile races, and the crowd at the start numbered fully a thousand. A hundred or more gathered at the finish line. Between them were scattered wagons and small groups," Automobile News recounted.

The wagons caused delays by repeatedly running over the timing wire and damaging it. Eventually, a new battery was also needed for the balky timer.

On March 28,1903, Winton wheeled his Bullet #1 to the start line to drive against Thomas in an Olds Pirate for the initial Ormond Challenge Cup.

Neither car featured any bodywork. Winton "sat in a bucket-type seat mounted forward from the rear axle." The steering column was installed perpendicular, very close in design to a right angle. The motor was suspended beneath the chassis with the radiator square, mounted very low in the front. The in-line engine was placed on its side and had only one forward speed."

The Pirate "appeared to be simply arched steel leaf-springs attached to a square steel front and rear axles to form a chassis. The wheels were bicycle-type with steel spokes. The springs supported two rocket-shaped tanks riding above the machine, mounted between the springs and about mid-way of the length of the peak of the arch. The engine was water-cooled and carried a radiator mounted at its front, all to the rear of the front axle." The driver "sat in a small plywood seat, his feet resting on two metal pads. One is reminded of a harness racing sulky, but one with four wheels."

Thomas lowered wind resistance by leaning forward in his seat.

"Senator" Morgan, ever a promoter, described the Pirate as a "long, sleek, rakish-looking craft."

When the starter gave the signal to go, Thomas pressed on the accelerator and chugged away. Winton gave him a 50-yard head start before lurching forward.

"It was a glorious chase to watch from the bathhouse steps," Automobile News reported. "The Bullet caught the Pirate just before the finish was reached and beat it by 1.5 of a second in 1:15." Other reports said the two men agreed to call the race a tie, although still insisting the race took place in 1902.

Ormond Beach received the nickname of "The Birthplace of Speed," while Winton took home the trophy.

The three days of events rewrote history, according to Motor Age magazine.

"The following new records have been established:
* A world's mile and world's kilometer record for medium, or light weight motor bicycles
* An American one-kilometer record for heavy cars-over 2,000 pounds.
* An American one-mile and kilometer record for light cars-under 1,000 pounds
* A 10-mile world's record for heavy cars made and likely to be accepted
* An unofficial but probably none the less actual world's five-mile record for heavy cars."

The publication immediately heaped on accolades. "Such a set of accomplishments-hardly needs comment or argument to convince the automobilists of the world that the beach on the Florida east coast lies the greatest natural motor vehicle speedway and race course in the world."

Chimed in Automobile News, "A new crop of American straightaway records and the organization of the Florida East Coast Automobile Association is the net result of three days of racing and speed trials on the Daytona-Ormond Beach that ended today. So successful was the tournament that it has been decided to make it an annual affair, and an association for that purpose was formed yesterday to absorb the Daytona and Seabreeze Associations and hold a week's tournament in the winter."

Racing in Daytona Beach was on its way.

Table of Contents

1First Years12
2The End of a Decade26
3Speed Kings42
4End of Time Trials56
5On the Beach70
8After the War112

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