(photo courtesy Leon Hammack)
The 375 acres that the Daytona International Speedway rest upon, near the Daytona International Airport was a swampy, muddy, snake-infested piece of earth! With that being said, it is important to trace the history of events that led up to Bill France wanting to build the biggest, fastest race track in the world.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the 26 mile of pristine beach that bordered Ormond Beach and Daytona Beach was a mecca for speed. However, beach racing was dictated by the tides. Additionally, the beach part of the racing area would get torn up and rutted from the heavy stock cars. Moreover, beachfront development began encroaching on the racing area. Still another problem with the site for racing didn’t allow for an adequate crowd control.
Dealing with all those problems pushed Big Bill France to begin considering building a new racing venue in the city of Daytona Beach. Around 1953 France started kicking around the idea of building a facility that would be a high-banked superspeedway. There were a few problems that both impeded and propelled these decisions. Daytona Beach was in the throws of a declining economical environment. That climate got the city fathers on board with Bill France, they saw the gold lining to this almost outlandish idea that France was trying to peddle. France took his plan to the commissioners looking for the requisite land mass that would accommodate his big plans.
After a large land search, it was decided that the 375 acres adjacent to the airport would, most likely, accommodate France’s dream race track. Now there was the problem of the price. France lobbied the city fathers very hard for an extremely favorable lease deal as being the sole deal maker/breaker! The city came through for Bill France and negotiated a very favorable lease agreement allowing the next step to begin, that is to find financing for the project.
France searched high and low throughout the local area for financing, to no avail. He then decided to contact the owners of the Milwaukee Braves and the Detroit Tigers, they were not interested in his business venture. However, he struck gold when talking to the Dallas Cowboys owner and Texas oilman, Clint Murchison, Jr. Murchison acquiesced and lent Bill France $600,000 to begin construction of the Daytona International Speedway!
Because France was focused on building a 2 1/2 mile track, and nothing smaller, there was one problem with the initial 375 tract of land that he acquired. Adjacent to the tract of land was a dog racing track that impeded on the initial design of the track. After lobbying heavily with the county commissioners, they were able to secure a piece of land from the dog track. With that small wedge of land, and redesigning the layout of the track, the ultimate configuration of the race track was built to fit into the land mass, out of necessity. It had to fit between the airport, the dog track, and Hiway 92, which runs along the front stretch of the facility.
Now to connect some of the rest of the dots of this story. Long before Bill France was the head of NASCAR, he worked as a mechanic at Lloyd Buick in Daytona Beach. Lloyd Buick was owned by J. Saxton Lloyd, a very respected businessman in the local area. Years later J. Saxton Lloyd would play a very important role in the construction of the superspeedway.
The banking in the turns was scheduled to be 31 degrees, which were patterned after the board tracks of the 20’s. Remembering that one of the main advantages of the banking is that there were no bad seats at the facility. Additionally, because of the banking, you could see the race cars all the way around the track.
France knew that Ford had built a similar facility at one of their proving grounds. So the initial engineering had been done on the transitions from a 31-degree banking to the 17 degrees in the tri-oval. It just so happened that Charlie Moneypenny worked with Ford on that project and had the engineering savvy. Moneypenny also held a “critical” piece of local knowledge key to the successful construction of this facility!
The Daytona area consisted of “ball bearing” type sand. Moneypenny, who helped design the old Naval air station, knew that there was a deep deposit of maral, a clay type soil, lying beneath the topsoil on this particular site. By digging up the maral and using it for the base of the racing surface, it would allow the building of the high banks for the turns.
With the mining of the maral, there was left a huge hole that ran most of the length of the back straight-away. What to do with that was a short-termed problem. France decided to fill the hole with water and name it, Lloyd Lake, after his former boss and political ally, J. Saxton Lloyd!
Finding the maral allowed the construction to kick into high gear. However, the next problem was to figure out just how to pave these monstrous 31-degree banks! After some troubleshooting, it was decided that the paving machines had to be tethered or anchored to prevent those machines from sliding down the sides of the banking.
The original grandstands provided seating for 25,000. However, foresight allowed for the additional pilings that we put into place for further expansion.
The construction proceeded at break-neck speed for the era which it was constructed in. France broke ground in November 1957 and the first race was run in February 1959! The rest is history, sports fans!
What are your thoughts on the monumental construction project known as the Daytona International Speedway?
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!