Daytona Beach, Fla. has been up to its sunburned neck in automotive speed for more than half a century. In the get-a-horse days, romantic daredevils like Barney Oldfield furrowed the smooth sands at the Atlantic's edge, and for a time world-famous seekers of absolute land speed records—men like Sir Malcolm Campbell—brought their monsters to the same inviting shore. But since the mid-1980s, when the speed-record men changed allegiance to the vast Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah, Daytona has not been able to boast the superlative "fastest."
Now, on the eve of the annual Speed Week (Feb. 15 through 22), Daytona has a magnificent new automobile race track, and if it is not the fastest in the world a lot of citizens will have to eat their hats.
This impressive racing plant, diagramed at left, is called the Daytona International Speedway. It is the greatest achievement of a rumpled, 49-year-old, deceptively casual giant of a man named William Henry Getty France. Many other hands were involved in it, to be sure, but it was Bill France who dreamed the dream and bulldozed it through.
Six years in the planning and more than a year abuilding, the speedway sprawls over what was, not long ago, a swampy pine-and-cypress thicket at the western edge of Daytona. The city airport is conveniently near. So is a one-fifth-mile dog racing track. A jai alai fronton is going up across the highway.
The principal element of the speedway is a 2�-mile superfast track of asphaltic concrete, banked at a steep 31� in the two big turns and at 18� in the apex of the fast dogleg past the grandstands. To the eye the high banks seem even steeper than 31� suggests; this illusion invariably draws ohs and ahs from visitors, and France gleefully says the view from the top is "like looking down off a jailhouse roof."
The lap distance of 2� miles was candidly chosen to equal that of the Indianapolis "500," this nation's foremost and the world's richest race, but the shape of the Daytona course is unique. It was conceived by France to make possible an unobstructed view from the grandstands. No part of the track (called a tri-oval by the Daytona people) is obscured, nor does a spectator have to lean forward, past adjacent fans, to focus on distant action on the homestretch.
Already in place are grandstands seating 18,800 and portable bleachers accommodating 6,500 more. There is parking space for 35,000 cars in areas outside and in, and space for approximately 75,000 spectators in the enormous infield.
A road course of slightly over two miles has been laid out in the infield. This will be used in conjunction with the speed track for road racing, providing a total lap distance of about 4.5 miles. Additionally, there is a course for motorcycle racing.
The 45-acre lake in the infield, nine feet at its deepest and 1,000 yards long, was made simply by digging down below the level of the water table. Part of the dirt removed was used to bulwark the banked sections of the track. Everything but the squeal of the racers' tires, by the way, seems destined to be utilized in this project. The lake, named for the Daytona civic leader J. Saxton Lloyd, who worked assiduously to promote the speedway plan, will serve not only as an ornament but also as a site for hydroplane racing. Eventually there will be a football field in the plot of ground between the pit access road and the central grandstand.
Every responsible racing official is acutely concerned with safety these days, and the solutions at Daytona seem to have been well thought out. A thick, steel-reinforced, 42-inch-high concrete wall extends along the outside of the track in front of the stands, which are well above track level. Above the wall stands a 10-foot-high steel mesh fence, and surmounting this is a mesh overhang, extending trackward, which is meant to trap any object that might fly off a racing car—for example, a wheel. A steel guardrail encloses the rest of the track. Fencing keeps infield spectators well away from the racing strip.