Race On Daytona Beach Started The Momentum For Stock Cars
This country’s first major race for stock-production automobiles was held on Sunday, March 8, 1936, in Daytona Beach, Fla., and laid the foundation upon which the National Ass’n for Stock Car Auto Racing would eventually be built.
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 Tommy Elmore of Jacksonville, Fla., when the checkered flag was waved.
Ben Shaw of Westfield, N.J., 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.
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 of Daytona Beach contracted with Hankinson Speedways, a New York City-based auto-racing promotion company, to organize and conduct the event. Veteran driver Sig Haughdal was hired as course superintendent, and oversaw construction and preparation of the track.
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.”