The Storied History of the Daytona 500

February is the month of Super Bowls, and more than just the one for the National Football League. The race known as the “Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing” happens shortly after, a race otherwise known as the Daytona 500. The annual event that is now in its 59th year has earned a reputation as the most prestigious race in all of stock car racing, and for good reason—the speeds are high, the winnings are big, and permanent glory awaits the one who takes the checkered flag. To get you up to speed with the history of “The Great American Race” before this year’s running on February 26th, we take a look at some of its illustrious history on our blog.

Race Origins

The story of races at Daytona Beach, Florida stretches as far back as the early 1900s, when wealthy individuals would bring their cars to the sands along the beach and race them against other well-to-do people. Due to the high cost of owning a car, auto racing was very much a sport for the extremely wealthy at this point. However, as cars became less expensive, more and more people became involved in these grassroots races that took place along the sands and the roads near the beach.

The Daytona Beach Road Course was created in the late 1920’s, and hosted a number of events sponsored by various businesses around the Daytona Beach area. The track was essentially a square, starting on the asphalt that now composes South Atlantic Avenue in Daytona Beach, before looping around and racing back up the sands near the ocean.

These races were held up until the mid-1940s when the war effort consumed most of the country. In 1947, William France Sr. began talks to create an organizing body that would help promote races while ensuring drivers were properly paid. That body is now known as NASCAR, and was formed in February of 1948.

By the early 1950s, NASCAR’s Speedweeks event at Daytona Beach was such a massive annual event that France began developing plans for a permanent superspeedway to host it. Construction was completed in 1956, and the new track hosted the first-ever Daytona 500 in 1959. Lee Petty, the patriarch of the Petty racing family that has made its name synonymous with the sport of stock car racing, won the first-ever race.

Early Years

Much of the spirit of the old road course races carried over to the new super-speedway event without missing a beat. Early legends such as Cale Yarborough, LeeRoy Yarbrough, Mario Andretti, and even the great Richard Petty all claimed victories, with the latter becoming the first two-time winner in 1964, three-time winner in 1973, and then four-time winner 1973. To date, Petty has won this race a whopping seven times, three more than the second-highest multiple winner, Cale Yarborough. He is also the only driver to have won in three decades, winning his seventh in the 1981 running.

Modern Era

In 1982, the race was moved to become the opening race of the NASCAR season, a position it has held ever since. In 1987, Bill Elliot set an all-time speed record at the track, claiming the pole position with a qualifying lap that clocked at 210.364 miles per hour. One year later, restrictor plates became mandatory to reduce the dangerously-high speeds the track was known for.

Interestingly enough, the Daytona 500 was a source of extensive frustration for perhaps the greatest driver NASCAR, Dale Earnhardt Sr. In 1986, he was leading with three laps left, but needed to stop for fuel and burned a piston leaving pit road, forcing him out of the running. In 1990, he appeared to be on cruise-control for a win when he ran over a bell-housing in the road, cutting down a tire, which allowed young Derrike Cope to take the win in a major upset. One year later, Earnhardt spun with two laps remaining, allowing Ernie Irvan to win. And then again in 1993, Dale Jarrett squeaked by Earnhardt on the last lap to claim the victory. It took Earnhardt 20 years to finally get to victory lane, getting there in 1998.

However, Daytona got the best of Earnhardt one last time in the late stages of the 2001 race. Earnhardt was involved in a crash on the last lap and died instantly in the accident in what is now referred to as “Black Sunday.”

The most recent editions of this race have seen several records and historic firsts, including the first woman to both win the pole and lead under green-flag conditions (Danica Patrick, 2013), the youngest winner in history (Trevor Bayne, 2011), the longest Daytona 500 in distance (520 miles, 2010), and the longest race in time to complete (37 hours, 2012). We don’t know what kind of crazy history will be made this year, but be sure not to miss it!

If you have the need for speed or want to get some racing action of your own in leading up to this year’s event, head over to MB2 Raceway today! Call 866-986-RACE for more information.
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