Monday, May 31, 2021
Exploring Florida…The Fun Coast
“I Feel the Need……
the Need For Speed
Perhaps you remember this line from the 1986 movie Top Gun delivered by Peter “Maverick” Mitchell, played by Tom Cruise, and Anthony Edwards who played “Goose”. It is meant to convey the passion a fighter pilot feels for his profession. But it is highly likely the 1902 pioneers of auto racing may have felt this compulsion themselves when they first raced automobiles on the hard-packed sands of Ormond Beach. Just north of Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach is now known as the “Birthplace of Speed”!
How did this all begin?
Well, it was Ransom E. Olds who, in the late 1890s, first started timed runs on the beaches of Ormond and Daytona. Then, in April of 1902, he took his model Pirate to Ormond Beach to participate in the first unofficial speed trials. Pirate was the first car of the event. And then, in 1903, when Olds and Alexander Winton competed, history was made. The Winton Bullet won the Challenge Cup against the Olds Pirate by two-tenths of a second! American records were set that year and the world took notice. The following year more records were set. And in 1906, the Stanley Rocket Racer, driven by dare-devil Fred Marriott, set the mark that became the most famous land speed record in Ormond Beach. The incredible speed of 127.659 mph held for four years—remarkable because it was accomplished in an age when records were often surpassed in a matter of minutes!!!
While all this was happening, Henry Flagler was busy buying and expanding the Hotel Ormond. Built by John Anderson and Joseph Price, it opened in 1888 and sold to Flagler in 1890. Flagler made it one of the best-known hotels in the world. It was a playground for the rich and famous. The Prince of Wales, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Thomas Edison along with Astor’s, Vanderbilt’s, and Roosevelt’s all came. Is this why the Daytona area became an epicenter of racing? Don’t know!!! Maybe!!! But no doubt, the hard-packed sand of the Ormond and Daytona Beaches captured the attention of the auto pioneers who visited the area.
By 1951, the hotel was in decline. Flagler had died in 1913. After several succeeding owners, the hotel wound up a retirement home and was eventually condemned, evacuated, and demolished in 1992. The cupola was saved and is now the centerpiece of Fortunato Park, located at the northeast corner of the Granada Bridge, across the street from the site of the hotel.
But we digress.
So, what happened next?
Well, the beaches continued to attract the rich and famous who could afford to purchase and use automobiles. Those first autos, sold to the public in 1903, were way too expensive for the average man. Ah, but then….Henry Ford took Ransom E. Olds’ 1897 creation of an auto assembly line and perfected it in 1913 as the first moving assembly line. Suddenly, quick and efficient mass production made automobiles affordable!!! There was more racing on the beaches. Crowds now flocked to see the cars and the racing. They would pay to witness the incredible speeds reached on the wide, long, and flat beaches where the sand was mostly quartz. And quartz made an ideal hard-packed surface for fast spinning tires!!!
By 1936, the races were taking place all up and down the beaches. To the south, at Ponce Inlet, the beaches were hosting races on the newly created oval track. This track, called the Daytona Beach and Road Course, started on the beach at Ponce Inlet; went north on the hard-packed sand paralleling the ocean; turned left through the banked-sand North Turn and headed west back to A1A; at that point, turning south on two-lane, paved Atlantic Ave (A1A) back to the start/finish line. Today, the “Racing’s North Turn Restaurant” still serves racing fans as they overlook that famous north turn.
And then came WWII. The auto industry re-tooled and turned to producing weapons and military equipment.
But by 1946, racing had returned!!! Unfortunately, unscrupulous promoters were also lured to the popularity of racing. They would come to town; promote their racing events; collect admission; and leave without paying the drivers!!!
And that is why NASCAR was born!!!
The moving force behind NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) was an American businessman and racing driver, William Henry Getty France better known as “Big Bill”, owner of the Daytona service station and repair shop, Main Street Station. On December 14, 1947, France gathered drivers, mechanics and car owners at the Ebony Bar in the Streamline Hotel at Daytona Beach. They put together a plan for uniform rules, insurance coverage and guaranteed purses. By February 21, 1948, they had created NASCAR!!!
Then by 1953, Big Bill recognized the need to leave the beaches where hotels were now popping up to accommodate the crowds who gathered for the races. He envisioned and then built a permanent “superspeedway.” Construction on the Daytona International Speedway began in 1956. By 1958, the races were ready to move. And then, the premiere, signature event—the Daytona 500—debuted in 1959. Bill France served as chairman and CEO of NASCAR until 1972 when he turned the reins over to his son, Bill, Jr. Today, the grandstand seats 123,500 fans!!!
But wait, is there anything other than racing to see along the Fun Coast???
So glad you asked!!! Daytona Beach and the surrounding areas offer a great deal of Florida charm. There is a reason this part of the Florida coastline is called the “Fun Coast”!!! You have the beautiful beaches, charming and historic downtowns, museums, arcades, the pier, the boardwalk, amusement parks, fine dining, and great shopping.
This truly is a fun place to visit!!!
Come on Down!!!