24 Hours In A Day

Knotty Nawadhinsukh Words by Knotty Nawadhinsukh

The Real Daytona

When one mentions the name, “Daytona”, often the conversation leans more toward a particular iconic model of a watch brand. If you were a true tifosi , then it is second nature for you to know that Ferrari ‘Daytona’ refers to the 365 GTB/4 which was christened by the motoring press when the model was first revealed to the general public in Paris in 1968 (you will later know why). In actual fact, the name referred to a quaint little beach town between Jacksonville and Orlando in Florida which I was fortunate enough to visit some time ago.

The Birthplace Of NASCAR

Fame came to Daytona Beach already more than 80 years ago (so to be clear, the watch and the Ferrari model were named after it, not the other way around) when the beach itself offered enough width and length during low tide for the brave souls at the time to set their World Land Speed Records with their machines. When the most powerful cars got faster and faster, they needed bigger space. So they went over to the west to set their speed records instead on the Salt Flats. But that was not the end of Daytona, for it became the venue for the early U.S. Stock Car racing—right there on the sandy beaches. But once more as stock cars got faster and more sophisticated, the idea of dicing on sand in such an open area with virtually no barriers became hazardous for the safety of both spectators and racing drivers alike. Enter Bill France, the organiser of all Stock Car races at the time—which has evolved to what we know today as NASCAR—to decide that it was required to build a proper race track. By 1959 this circuit was finally completed and was named, Daytona International Speedway. Thus the Daytona 500 had since been held every February as the Blue Riband event—right here at the home of NASCAR.

The Oval Office

Bill France’s vision for the track was to achieve two objectives; one was to ensure that every spectator in the grandstand can see the whole race throughout the entire track and the second was to make one of the fastest and most formidable tracks to race on. Thus the design turned out near oval in shape and with bankings by as much as 31 degrees in the turns and 18 degrees on the straights. To race at Daytona, there is simply little room to lift off. To remain on the track, a racing driver must maintain speed at all times. It is one of the most daunting and frightening tracks there is, but “peddle to the metal” is what it is all about.

Foreign Invasion

While Daytona continued to be the local domain for stock cars, it was decided several years after that the track should also welcome international road racing. It was time for sports racing cars to sample the challenges of the Speedway’s notorious banking as well. So in 1966, the track further expanded by adding an infield section with twister and tighter turns and shorter straights that can be linked to the oval section and transformed Daytona as a proper ‘road racing’ circuit for sports car racing. That year came the first Daytona 24 Hours race, which attracted foreign manufacturers from the world over, such as Porsche, Alfa Romeo, Matra, Lola, Jaguar, Ford and of course Ferrari. In the 1967 race, Ferrari did a clean sweep of placing first, second and third places and crossing the finishing line on the banking all together in unison. Such victory over arch-rival Ford’s very own home soil was heard around the world, that the media gave Ferrari’s latest road car that was launched a year later—the 365 GTB/4—the title of “Daytona” as a tribute. (See? Now you know.) The 24 Hours of Daytona hence has been going on for over half a century as one of the biggest on the racing calendar, which is obviously rich in history.

Classic 24 Hour At Daytona

If you have a penchant for vintage motor racing and would love watching iconic racing cars come alive like the way they used to, then the southeastern part of the United States is where you should be. It is where Historic Sportscar Racing (HSR) is situated and diligently organises such an event year round at all the great tracks such as Sebring, Road Atlanta—and Daytona. Annually around mid-November, HSR would hold the Classic 24 Hour at Daytona, by not only bringing together the cars participated in the actual race in period but also most of the drivers who drove them at that time too. During my last visit there, I was able to meet with such legendary drivers as Brian Redman, who drove the Porsche 917 and the BMW “Batmobile” here, Derek Bell, five-time winner of Le Mans and who also won the Daytona 24 Hours back in 1989 in the Porsche 962 and Frank Biela who drove for Audi in the American Le Mans series a little over a decade ago.

Face-To-Face With Legends

What made the visit to the Classic 24 Hour at Daytona fulfilling and special was not about seeing real racing cars (from the lone Matra MS630, the Porsches 934, 935, 956 and 962, the Jaguar XJR, the Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport and the Lola T70, to name but a few) in the flesh racing at full speed day and night or even the great cars that were parked outside the track, but also for its accessibility. Here during the race weekend you can walk in to take a closer look at all cars that you only saw on TV or in magazines all along the pit lane and garages where they are prepared before going onto the track. If they are not too busy, then you can have a word with virtually any past racing drivers who came to take part. While the sights and sounds of thirty to forty year old racing cars sticking itself on the banking at 200 miles per hour or even more was thrilling enough(remember this is Daytona, you do not hold back) , I also got the chill of meeting my hero Derek Bell in person and had a brief conversation with him. If only there were more than 24 hours in a day.