Since 1994, NASCAR has made an annual pilgrimage to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the mecca for IndyCar racing. It figures, then, that one day IndyCar could pay NASCAR back by racing on stock car racing’s most fabled track, Daytona International Speedway. Believe it or not, something like that has happened exactly once, and there’s a good reason it happened only once.
The Daytona International Speedway was the brainchild of “Big” Bill France, the founder of NASCAR. Daytona Beach, Fla. had been the “World Center of Racing” for decades even before the construction of the speedway, and even before the foundation of NASCAR itself. In fact, it was at Daytona Beach’s Streamline Hotel where France met with various promoters, drivers, and other top racing figures to form NASCAR as we know it today.
Before the speedway, the racing at Daytona Beach took place on a road course at the beach itself. Races there were so popular, in fact, that the crowds began to outgrow the temporary track. France realized he needed to build a permanent facility as part of the growing organization of stock car racing.
While NASCAR would be the premier event at the new speedway, France always intended it to be a showplace for auto racing of all kinds year-round. In fact, even before construction finished, he met with officials from USAC to set up two events for the 1959 season — two twin 100-mile races in April, and a 300-mile race on the Fourth of July.
Tragedy strikes on race weekend
Even before the race proper, Daytona International Speedway already claimed its first life. During a test run on the new track, Marshall Teague’s roadster crashed and flipped several times, sending him flying out of the car. He died instantly. Still, death was an accepted part of motorsports at the time, and USAC forged ahead with the April races as planned.
The USAC Daytona 100 drew a disappointing crowd. Only 10,000 showed up for the race, compared to the 40,000 that attended the first Daytona 500 in February. There may have been a reason for this. While stock car racing was popular in the Deep South, the type of racing seen at Indianapolis was a more Midwestern spectacle.
Jim Rathmann crossed the finish line to win the first of the twin races. The result would be shrouded in tragedy, however. Just as the race ended, George Amick made a late move to pass into third place when he lost control. His car went into several barrel rolls before landing in the infield, killing him instantly.
After the tragic events of the past two months, USAC wisely determined that it was just too dangerous to race their cars at the new superspeedway. They struck the July Daytona race off the 1959 schedule and never returned.
IndyCar flirts with a Daytona return
Neither of USAC’s successors, CART and IndyCar, have held an official race at the speedway ever since. There have been faint glimpses of Indy Cars at Daytona, but only for unofficial testing.
In September 2006 and Jan.-Feb. 2007, the modern IndyCar series held brief testing sessions at Daytona. On both occasions, the cars used Daytona’s motorcycle road course layout, rather than the full NASCAR tri-oval that the USAC cars used in 1959.