A Day in Daytona Beach, Florida

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”!

Ormond Beach, the “Birthplace of Speed”!!!
This is where the auto pioneers came to test and perfect their machines. The hard-packed sand of Ormond Beach was an inviting raceway. And today, vehicles still travel up and down the beach although racing has moved to the Daytona International Speedway

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!!!  

The world was watching in 1903 as Alexander Winton’s Bullet overtook Olds’ Pirate to win the Challenge Cup by two-tenths of a second! This was the year that American autos set world records. The age of speed had arrived!
Ransom E. Olds’ Pirate on the beach in 1903. (Flickr’s Commons, no known copyright restrictions)
This is a miniature replica of the Ormond Garage built by Flagler in 1904 to house the autos, crews, and mechanics who flocked to the area for automotive timed-run speed trials. The owners and manufacturers stayed at Flagler’s Hotel Ormond.
The original Ormond Garage was destroyed in 1976 when fire erupted and could not be contained. Sadly, several antique cars were also lost. The original site on East Granada Blvd. is now occupied by Sun Trust Bank.
A replica of Olds’ Pirate on display at the Ormond Garage.
And a replica of Winton’s Bullet is there too!!!
Just this one sightseeing stop gives an amazing overview of the early history of auto racing in America. This is where it all began!!!
And it is interesting to note that Henry Flagler’s Hotel Ormond was a sponsor of the beachside races. At this time and place, everyone was a winner!!!

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.

The Hotel Ormond as depicted in a 1905 postcard. The first Ormond bridge can be seen to the right side.
(Unknown author – Transferred from en.wikipedia
Public Domain}le written by Adobe Photoshop? 4.0)
(Ebyabe, Creative Commons Attribution 2.5)
What a shame the Hotel Ormond did not survive. ( Public domain)
Back in its day, this was a fun place to stay!!! Here is an old photo of an Auto Parade starting off from the hotel. (Public domain)
And then, the building declined. All that remains today is the cupola, fortunately saved during the demolition in 1992. (Public domain)
The cupola of Hotel Ormond, rescued from the hotel’s demolition in 1992, is now on display in Fortunato Park.(Ebyabe, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0)

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!!!

The Daytona Beach and Road Course was popular from the 1930s through the 1950s. As more and more crowds came to watch, hotels would pop up on the beach to accommodate them.
The famous North Turn is where the beach track turned back to HighwayA1A. The North Turn Restaurant opened at the site and still serves racing fans today. The course, however, is long-gone.
A condo tower now occupies the site of the North Turn next to the North Turn Restaurant.
But the restaurant still overlooks the beachside course area.
Your imagination is required to picture the cars speeding along the hard-packed sand.
You have to ignore the hotels and condos!!!
But you can always visit the restaurant’s museum for a look-back to history!!!
The North Turn Restaurant

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!!! 

“Big Bill” France started the Main Street Station service garage in 1934 . It still exits but is now an events and entertainment venue. The garage maintains its authentic appearance along with its mission to keep the racing spirit of years past alive.
This vintage garage bar honors the legends of racing with music, dancing, and theme-nights. Wednesday night is Bike Night!!!
The Streamline Hotel was built in 1941. It is the first fireproof building in Daytona Beach, and as such, became the city’s first bomb shelter!!! It is the oldest standing hotel in Daytona Beach.
This is where Bill France, in 1947, met with owners, drivers, and mechanics in the rooftop Ebony bar. And after 69 days, NASCAR was created!!! But even after a $6 million renovation in 2017, the hotel remains closed.
France built the Daytona International Speedway, home of the Daytona 500, in 1959. He died in 1992 at the age of 83.
“Big Bill France and his wife Ann were the moving force behind the Daytona International Speedway.
Tours of the speedway are offered daily.
But there are many outdoor exhibits to see. also. Just wander through the parking lot!!!
Walk of Fame
Dale Earnhardt
Today, Bill France, Jr., Big Bill’s son, leads NASCAR and the speedway.

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.

The sign says it all!!!
The Florida beaches are always great!!!
Downtown is charming.
Halifax Historical Museum
Samuel Henry Kress built and operated a chain of five & dime department stores across America from 1896 to 1981. They were known for grand and diverse styles of architecture. This one was built in 1932.
Yacht Club
The Jackie Robinson Ball Park
Along the Boardwalk
The Clock Tower
The Bandshell
The Beach, the Boardwalk, the pier.
And you can Eat at Joe’s!!!

This truly is a fun place to visit!!!

Come on Down!!!