For seven days, while perverse winds and tides conspired against the best-laid plans of the mechanical age, America's annual salute to speed on the classic sands of Daytona Beach, Florida, was at a virtual standstill. Instead of high-powered automobiles flashing down the stretch, road graders and bulldozers shuffled back and forth vainly trying to smooth out pits and gullies in the sand which one night of northeast winds and a high tide would have packed like an airport runway. Day by day, officials of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, drivers and increasingly disgruntled spectators made the pilgrimage to the sea, looked and headed glumly back to motels and garages again.
But when the speed trials came to life, they did so with a bang and a roar. Before they were over, Daytona had a triple-crowned hero, several new records, more fuel on the fires of a firmly established feud between two leading Detroit manufacturers in the burgeoning field of U.S. sports cars, spills, thrills and a full-fledged riot which was quieted only by the National Guard. It was a week to remember.
The man to remember was a tall, lean, ex-fireman, ex-cab driver and father of five: Julius Timothy Flock of Atlanta, Georgia (left). For the second year running, Tim Flock captured the week's top race, the 160-mile Grand National Circuit, and the new SPORTS ILLUSTRATED trophy, last Sunday. Not only that; he also racked up a record qualifying time of 135.74 mph in his big Chrysler 300B, drove the same type of car to victory and a new record in the passenger-car time trials over a measured mile with a 139.373 mph average and ran away with the 125-mile Sportsman and Modified Race in a red-hot 1939 Chevrolet powered with a 1956 Oldsmobile fuel-injection engine.
From the time he first drove onto the beach on Wednesday, it seemed as though nothing could stop Tim Flock. And, in fact, nothing could. It was a rain-soaked, wreck-strewn race he wove his way through on Sunday in his climactic victory, but he drove with needle-threading accuracy all the way. Though 38 of the 75 cars entered were out before the race was over, though car after car spun out, cracked up or otherwise got into trouble on the mudslick north and south turns and the race was finally cut off eight miles short of the scheduled finish line because the tide was lapping at the beach course, Flock's Chrysler hardly ever wavered. Seldom spectacular, except in his meticulous skill in holding the big car on the hairline that separated speed from spin, he won with an average of 90.83 mph, 57 seconds ahead of Runner-up Billy Myers, of Germanton, N.C., in a Mercury.
But if Tim Flock dominated the stock cars, NASCAR's particular concern, there was almost as much interest this year in a field formerly virtually pre-empted by foreign entries—the sports cars. This time American speedsters led the way all the way. What they did, and how they did it, promised an exciting future for enthusiasts of the breed.
Lined up in what amounted to a factory competition were three Chevrolet Corvettes, painted in American racing colors of white and blue, and a sleek black Thunderbird. Zora Arkus-Duntov, Chevrolet's imported European racing engineer, headed the Corvette team which was entered by Richard Doane of Raceways Enterprises in Dundee, Illinois; and Pete De Paolo, an oldtime racing great now working under Ford's banner, entered the Thunderbird, driven by Chuck Daigh. And right away things began to happen.
In their first trial, the Corvettes and the Thunderbird squared off in the acceleration test, one mile from a standing start. The T-Bird flashed down the strip for an average of 92.14 mph, shattering the brand-new record for production sports cars set barely a month before at Daytona by Arkus-Duntov in a Corvette. This time the Corvette trailed at 86.684 mph.
Promptly the decision was protested. The Thunderbird, said Doane, was modified. Bill France, NASCAR's president, had both cars inspected. Both were found to have cylinders overbored in excess of regulations, the Corvette by 33/1,000ths of an inch, the Thunderbird by 40/1,000ths. When the argument was over, France announced that both violations were due to a misinterpretation of the rules, and that the tests would be restaged with new, regulation engines in both cars. This time it was official: Chuck Daigh in the Thunderbird, 88.779 mph; William Norkett of Chicago in another, privately entered Thunderbird, 87.869; John Fitch in the Corvette, 86.872. Round One was clearly Ford's.
Round Two, however, was a different story. In the two-way flying mile, a test of pure speed, the Corvette won hands down. Fitch sped southward down the beach at a sizzling 154.972 mph, turned, sped back (against the wind which helped him before) at 137.195 for a 145.543 average. Betty Skelton, the pert little auburn-haired aviatrix-driver, ran her Corvette second with a southbound time of 145.044 mph and a 137.773 average. Nine privately entered T-birds followed in close order, headed by Andrew Hotton, of Dearborn, Michigan, with an average of 134.404. Chuck Daigh's Thunderbird did not compete.
The Corvettes underscored their claim as kings of pure speed by racking up the fastest time of any car on the beach when Arkus-Duntov drove a modified car (with tail fin, bellypan and increased compression) down the stretch at a flashing 155.642 for the southbound run and a 147. 300 mph average. Even a Grand Prix Ferrari, driven in a class by itself by Bill Holland, couldn't reach that one-way speed, although Holland's two-way average of 148.087 mph was higher.