The Daytona Beach Road Course was a race track that was instrumental in the formation of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, or NASCAR.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Daytona Beach became known as the place to set world land speed records, supplanting France and Belgium as the preferred location for land speed records, with 8 consecutive world records set between 1927 and 1935.
The first official speed runs on the beach happened in 1903 as Ransom Olds with his Oldsmobile Pirate and Alexander Winton driving the Winton “Bullet” chased the 60 mph barrier across the sand. Olds ran first but Winton was .2 seconds quicker at 68.198 mph. After that historic race between Ransom Olds and Alexander Winton in 1903, the beach became a mecca for racing enthusiasts and 15 records were set on what became the Daytona Beach Road Course between 1905 and 1935.
That contest brought a plethora of record runs to Daytona Beach. Over a span of 30 years, 15 world speed marks were set by some of racing’s most iconic stars Ralph DePalma, Tommy Milton, Jimmy Murphy, Wilbur Shaw, Major H.O.D. Segrave (who broke the 200 mph barrier in 1927 at 203.79 mph), 1926 Indianapolis 500 winner Frank Lockhart (who died in 1928 trying to wrest the record away from Segrave) and Campbell.
March 29, 1927 Major Henry Segrave and his Sunbeam 1000 hp Mystery set a world land speed record on the Daytona Beach Road Course, at 203.79 mph (327.97 km/h), peaking at a top speed of 211 mph.
March 7, 1935, Sir Malcolm Campbell captures Land Speed Record in the Bluebird. His run on the beach started in Ormond Beach and ended in Ponce Inlet and cracked the 300 mph mark. His average speed was calculated at 276.816 mph.
Campbell’s run in 1935 was the last LSR attempt on the sand of Daytona Beach. Speeds had reached the limit of what the beach could safely handle and future LSR attempts moved to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.
By the time the Bonneville Salt Flats became the premier location for pursuit of land speed records, Daytona Beach had become synonymous with fast cars in 1936.
Daytona Beach city officials, desperate to continue some form of racing to maintain the tourist trade speed had generated, turned to stock cars. The City of Daytona Beach contracted with Hankinson Speedways, a New York City-based auto-racing promotion company, to organize and conduct the event, a 250-mile race for passenger cars along the 3.2-mile (5.1 km) course in 1936.
Veteran driver Sig Haughdal was hired as course superintendent, and oversaw construction and preparation of the track. Haugdahl is credited for designing the track.
Haugdahl laid out a 3.2-mile course that utilized a 1.5-mile stretch of beach and an equal length of Highway A1A that paralleled the beach with sweeping, sandy corners connecting each end.
The course started on the pavement of highway A1A (at 4511 South Atlantic Avenue, Ponce Inlet). A restaurant named "Racing's North Turn" now stands at that location. It went south two miles (3.2 km) parallel to the ocean on A1A (S. Atlantic Ave) to the end of the road, where the drivers accessed the beach at the south turn at the Beach Street approach, returned two miles (3.2 km) north on the sandy beach surface, and returned to A1A at the north turn. The lap length in early events was 3.2 miles (5.1 km), and it was lengthened to 4.2 miles (6.8 km) in the late 1940s.
One-hundred cars showed up for the March 8 event and thousands flocked to revel in the action. And there was plenty, until the race was ended prematurely when the corners were so plowed that the sand became deep and impassable.
Run over what was described as one of the most tortuous and difficult courses ever devised for a road race, Milt Marion, of St. Albans, N.Y., out-drove and out-smarted a field of 27 entries to win the AAA-sanctioned race and claim the $1,700 first prize.
The race, originally scheduled for 250 miles, was stopped and called official after 241 miles on account of the tide, which had risen to the point that only a narrow strip of beach, estimated to be fewer than 15 feet wide, was left for the drivers. The event was conducted on a unique 3.2-mile course that saw the cars run north on the legendary beach and then return south on a paved stretch of highway.
Driving a Ford V-8, Marion took the lead at the 200-mile mark and completed the distance in 4 hours, 54 minutes and 42 seconds at an average speed of 47.8 mph. He was a full lap ahead of second-place finisher Ben Shaw of Westfield, N.J., when the checkered flag was waved.
Tommy Elmore of Jacksonville, Fla., finished third with Sam Purvis of Jacksonville, Fla., and Bill France of Washington, D.C., completing the top five as only 10 cars were still running at the end.
Milt Marion was declared the winner by the AAA (the sanctioning body). Second place finisher Ben Shaw and third-place finisher Tommy Elmore protested the results, but their appeal was overturned.
The race report in the March 12 issue of National Auto Racing News noted that Marion's winning time "may be considered very slow by those who did not see the course, but in reality it was a wonder that the cars held together even at this speed. The course was full of ruts, bumps and holes, and at times the cars seemed to completely leave the ground."
The report also said, "One driver was seen on one of the bends with a shovel madly digging his car out, while other cars passing him were missing him by inches.
The city lost a reported $22,000 and has not promoted an event since.
A story in the Jan 23, 1936, issue of NARN announcing the milestone race appropriately concluded with, "The idea involved is for an annual championship-caliber event to be inaugurated this year, with further expansion for coming years."
Haugdahl talked with France, and they talked the Daytona Beach Elks Club into hosting another event in 1937. The event was more successful, but still lost money. Haugdahl didn't promote any more events.
France took over the job of running the course in 1938. He did the leg work and local restaurant owner Charlie Reese put up $1,000 in prize money for a 150-mile stock car race on a new and improved 3.2-mile Beach and Road course. Danny Murphy beat France in the July event, and collected $145. After the purse and expense money was paid out, Reese and France had cleared a $200 profit. France beat Lloyd Moody and Pig Ridings to win the Labor Day weekend event, this time making $20,000.
There were three races in 1939 and three races in 1940. France finished fourth in March, first in July, and sixth in September.
Lloyd Seay finished fourth in the July 27, 1941 event after rolling twice. He returned on August 24 that year to win the event. He was killed by a family member in a dispute over the family moonshine business.
Roy Hall won on the course several times.
France was busy planning the 1942 event, until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. France spent World War II working at the Daytona Boat Works. Most racing stopped until after the war. Car racing returned to the track in 1946.
On June 30, 1946, William H.G. France, 37, known as “Big Bill” to fellow racers, announces his retirement as a race driver to become a full-time race promoter. France created an organization called the National Championship Stock Car Circuit, Inc., and began promoting races throughout the South for Modified pre-war coupes and sedans.
France's slogan for the new touring series is "NCSCC: Where The Fastest That Run, Run The Fastest."
Points were awarded for each race at 500 to the winner, 400 for second, and 300, 200, and 100 for the next three places – 1,500 points per race.
For 1947 the point system was revised, awarding 100 points to the winner and dropping ten points for the next nine places – 550 points per race. The two Daytona races and the Langhorne 200-lapper carried double points.
On December 12, 1947 Red Byron gallops to victory in the 1947 NCSCC finale at Jacksonville, Fla. Fonty Flock, winner of seven races during the season, is declared the champion. Flock finishes 235 points ahead of two-time winner Ed Samples. Nine-time winner Red Byron finishes third in points.
Fonty Flock, winner of the NCSCC title, will be listed as "1947 NASCAR Champion" in all early season press releases.
By the end of the 1947 season, attendance at most of the NCSCC races exceeded capacity and France knew it was time for stock car racing to expand beyond its Southern roots.
France knew that promoters needed to organize their efforts. Drivers were frequently victimized by unscrupulous promoters who would leave events with all the money before drivers were paid.
On December 14, 1947 France began talks with 35 others who share a concern for the future of stock car racing, at the Ebony Bar at the Streamline Hotel at Daytona Beach, Florida. At 1:00 pm, France called to order the 35 men who represented the NCSCC on the top floor of the hotel. They discussed uniform rules, insurance coverage and guaranteed purses.
The meeting was the first of four seminars in which France would outline his vision of an organized group of race car drivers.
"The purpose of this association is to unite all stock car racing under one set of rules; to set up a benevolent fund and a national point standing system whereby only one stock car driver will be crowned national champion," declared France.
"Every track and every area has a 'national champion' of every type of racing. This has so confused the sports writers that they give up in disgust after trying to give the public an accurate picture."
The NCSCC was disbanded and a set of rules is established and Louis Jerome "Red" Vogt, renowned mechanic from Atlanta and one of those attending the meeting, has generally been given credit for coming up with the name for the new organization; and on February 21, 1948, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing was incorporated.
The name originally chosen for the series was National Stock Car Racing Association; when it was pointed out that that name was already in use by a rival sanctioning body.
The organization hired Erwin "Cannonball" Baker to be the first Commissioner of Racing. The new organization sanctioned its first race on the Daytona Beach road/beach course in February of 1948, several days before it was legally incorporated. More than 14,000 fans watched that first event, a 150-miler that Red Byron won ahead of Teague, Raymond Parks, Buddy Shuman, and Wayne Pritchett.
The points system was written on a bar room napkin. The original plans for NASCAR included three distinct divisions: Modified, Roadster, and Strictly Stock. The Modified and Roadster classes were seen as more attractive to fans.
It turned out that NASCAR fans wanted nothing to do with the roadsters, which fans perceived as a Northeast or Midwest series. The roadster division was quickly abandoned, while the modified division now operates as the Whelen Modified Tour.
The Strictly Stock division was put on hold as American automobile manufacturers were unable to produce family sedans quickly enough to keep up with post-World War II demand. The 1948 schedule featured 52 Modified dirt track races.
The sanctioning body hosted its first event at Daytona Beach on February 15, 1948. Red Byron beat Marshall Teague in the Modified division race. Byron won the 1948 national championship. Things had changed dramatically by 1949, and the Strictly Stock division was able to debut with a 20-mile (32 km) exhibition in February near Miami.
The first NASCAR "Strictly Stock" race ever was held at Charlotte Speedway, although this is not the same track as the Charlotte Motor Speedway that is a fixture on current NASCAR schedule. The race was held on June 19, 1949 and won by driver Jim Roper when Glenn Dunnaway was disqualified after the discovery of his altered rear springs.
In 1949 NASCAR changed the rules governing the cars: whereas in 1948 “modifieds”—cars varying in age and in the mechanical modifications made to them for the purpose of racing—were allowed to compete, from June 1949 only late-model (recently manufactured) stock cars were permitted. Races that year were called Strictly Stock races, and Red Byron became the series champion.
NASCAR’s rules required cars to resemble their stock counterparts in their dimensions and appearance, but car owners, drivers, and mechanics increasingly exploited those rules in their attempts to gain a competitive advantage.
Initially, the cars were known as the "Strictly Stock Division" and raced with virtually no modifications on the factory models.
Over a period of more than a decade, modifications for both safety and performance were allowed, and by the mid-1960s, the vehicles were purpose-built race cars with a stock-appearing body.
France changed the name of the series to Grand National in 1950, a name used until 1971, when the tobacco company R.J. Reynolds bought sponsorship rights to the series and renamed it the NASCAR Winston Cup Grand National Series, with a new points system and some significant cash benefits to compete for championship points.
In 1972, the season was shortened from 48 races (including two on dirt tracks) to 31. 1972 is often acknowledged as the beginning of NASCAR's "modern era". The next competitive level, called Late Model Sportsman, gained the "Grand National" title passed down from the top division and soon found a sponsor in Busch Beer.
In 1986 the Grand National was dropped and the series became NASCAR Winston Cup.
In 2004, Nextel Communications took over sponsorship of the premier series from R. J. Reynolds, who had sponsored it as the Winston Cup from 1972 until 2003, and formally renamed it the Nextel Cup Series. A new championship points system, the "Chase for the Nextel Cup," (renamed "Chase for the Sprint Cup" in 2008) was also developed, which reset the point standings with ten races to go, making only drivers in the top ten or within 400 points of the leader eligible to win the championship. In 2007, NASCAR announced it was expanding "The Chase" from ten to twelve drivers, eliminating the 400-point cutoff, and giving a ten-point bonus to the top twelve drivers for each of the races they have won out of the first 26. Wins throughout the season would also be awarded five more points than in previous seasons. In 2008, the premier series title name became the Sprint Cup Series, as part of the merger between Nextel and Sprint.
In 2011, NASCAR announced a number of major rules changes, the most significant being abandoning the points system from the 1947 bar napkin. The winner of a race now receives 43 points, with one-point decrements for each subsequent position (42 for second, 41 for third, and so on). The winner also receives 3 bonus points, and single bonus points are awarded to all drivers who lead a lap, plus the driver who leads the most laps. Another significant change involves the qualifying process for the Chase. The number of qualifying drivers will remain at 12, but only the top 10 will qualify solely on regular-season points. The remaining two Chase drivers will be the two drivers in the next 10 of the point standings (11th through 20th) with the most race wins in the regular season.
In 2014, NASCAR announced another revamp to the Chase format, expanding the Chase pool to 16 drivers, and eliminating four drivers after every three races, leaving four drivers to compete for the championship at the season finale at Homestead. In addition, wins were given an increased emphasis, with the 16 drivers with the most wins (15 if the points leader is winless; points leader will receive an automatic berth) gaining a spot in the chase. If there are fewer than 16 winners, the remaining spots will be filled based on the conventional points system.
Monster Energy became the title sponsor in 2017, which changed the series' name to Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. With Monster Energy's title sponsorship, NASCAR also abandoned "The Chase" name and now refers to the last 10 races simply as "the playoffs" similar to most other sports.
After the 2019 season, NASCAR declined an offer from Monster Energy to remain the title sponsor of the top series. On December 5, NASCAR revealed their new sponsorship model. Instead of a singular title sponsor, four "premier partners" (Coca-Cola, Xfinity, Busch Beer and GEICO) would be closely affiliated with the top series, which was simply renamed the NASCAR Cup Series.