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24 Hours Of Daytona

January 27, 2012 by staff 

24 Hours Of Daytona, There are 50 things you need to know about the 50th anniversary of the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona sports-car endurance race (the golden race will be held this weekend, January 28–29), beginning with this one fact: This is the 50th anniversary, but not at all the 50th annual 24-hour race.

1. The first race that counts as part of the anniversary celebration, the 1962 Daytona Continental, was three hours long. Well aware of the already 10-year history of the nearby 12 Hours of Sebring—which itself will celebrate its 60th anniversary this year—Daytona founder “Big Bill” France decided to start out on the conservative side. The Daytona race was lengthened in distance in 1964, when it took just over 12 hours to complete. In 1966, it was finally lengthened to 24 hours. But it was trimmed back to six hours for 1972, with the global FIA sanctioning body insisting that only Le Mans should run 24 hours. It was back to 24 hours just one year later.

2. While the race’s length was increased back to 24 hours in 1973, there was no race at all in 1974 of any length, a capitulation to the gasoline crisis. So technically, this year marks the 49th running of a major annual sports-car race at Daytona International Speedway. But hey, who wants to spoil the party?

3. The 50 starters for that original race in 1962 may still be the strongest list of drivers from various disciplines ever to compete against each other. Jim Clark against Fireball Roberts? Innes Ireland against Roger Penske? David Hobbs against Joe Weatherly? Phil Hill, Stirling Moss, Pedro Rodriguez, Paul Goldsmith, Don Yenko, Jim Hall, Marvin Panch—the roster is amazing. Phil Hill’s run was crippled, incidentally, when he hit a seagull. The seagull’s day was reported to have been ruined entirely.

4. The above list of drivers doesn’t include the two wheelmen who finished first and last. A.J. Foyt led the first lap in, of all things, a Pontiac Tempest. But he only completed two laps, and finished 50th.

5. The winner, in a finish more unlikely than that of any Daytona race since, was Dan Gurney, in an underpowered Lotus-Climax 19B. Gurney was concerned the engine might not make the whole distance, with good reason: Traversing the third and fourth turns of the banking, the tired Climax engine threw a rod through the engine block. Gurney coasted to just a few feet short of the finish line with a two-minute lead, and he figured there were less than two minutes left in the three-hour race. So he sat and waited for the flagman, who was looking at his watch, to throw the checkered flag. When the flagman did, Gurney turned the front wheels in order to coast down the banking, and the car crept across the finish line just seconds ahead of Hill and co-driver Ricardo Rodriguez in a Ferrari Dino 246SP.

6. The winner of the 1963 race, Pedro Rodriguez, competed with a heavy heart. He and his brother Ricardo were considered among the best drivers in the world, and Ricardo had co-driven to second place in the inaugural Daytona race. But later that year, Ricardo was killed during practice for his home Mexican Grand Prix. Pedro soldiered on and won the three-hour race driving solo in 1963, and then won the longer event in 1964 with teammate Phil Hill.

7. One of the most amazing tales ever from Daytona’s sports-car race occurred in 1963, when Marvin Panch, who already had won a Daytona 500, was practicing in Briggs Cunningham’s Birdcage Maserati and something broke. The car flipped, caught fire, and landed wheels up with Panch trapped underneath. NASCAR journeyman driver Tiny Lund—so named for his enormous size—ran to the car and freed Panch. Even so, Panch was too badly injured to drive in the Daytona 500 a few weeks later, and asked his team, the Wood Brothers, if they would give the ride to the winless Lund. They did, and Lund won the Daytona 500. Lund was later killed in a crash in 1975.

8. In 1967, longtime Car and Driver writer Brock Yates and teammate Charles Krueger drove a Dodge Dart to 15th, nine spots ahead of the team of A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney in a Ford GT40 (they DNF’d).

9. Also in 1967, two all-female teams took to the track, including a Ford Mustang that Janet Guthrie, Anita Taylor-Matthews, and Smokey Drolet drove to 20th place. (Donna Mae Mims and Suzy Dietrich finished 25th in an ASA 411.) Guthrie said her Mustang had been someone’s street car just a week before.

10. Stunt driver Joie Chitwood, Jr. made his first of three starts in the 1967 Daytona race, finishing 46th in a Chevrolet Camaro. Presiding over the 2012 race as the president of Daytona International Speedway, is his son, Joie Chitwood III.

11. In 1968, local legendary car builder Smokey Yunick entered a Chevrolet Camaro for Bruce McLaren and Jim Hall. After inspection, though, Yunick was told to take the car back home, because the 27 “irregularities” were just too many to fix before race time. Among those irregularities were a body acid-dipped to thin the sheetmetal and lightweight Lexan windows, but the inspectors never noticed the supercharger powered by the clutch flywheel.

12. Also in 1968, George Waltman started last in the 63-car field in his Morgan Plus 4. He ran the entire race and finished 33rd, not bad considering he had no co-driver. Had he not needed to take a nap Sunday morning, he might have finished higher.

13. The 1971 race marked the 24-hour debut of what would become one of the most famous teams in endurance racing: Hurley Haywood, just back from Vietnam, paired up with his friend Peter Gregg in a Porsche 914 that didn’t finish.

14. Also in 1971, Pedro Rodriguez, who several times had thought of quitting after his brother was killed, won his fourth race at Daytona. It was his last: He was killed later that year at the Norisring, when his Ferrari 512M crashed and burned.

15. According to an account in J.J. O’Malley’s excellent book, Daytona 24 Hours: The Definitive History of America’s Great Endurance Race, Peter Gregg and Hurley Haywood had the 1973 race well enough in hand in their Brumos Porsche 911 Carrera RSR that in the closing stages, representatives of the Classic Car Wax company offered Gregg $10,000 if he would pit long enough for company representatives to wax his car so it would shine properly as it crossed the finish line. Gregg refused, as he was afraid the Porsche might not restart.

16: The 1976 race was stopped when at least nine cars were sidelined, some permanently, with bad fuel. Apparently a fuel truck was dispensing contaminated gasoline. New fuel was dispatched from Jacksonville, and the race was halted for two hours and 40 minutes under a red flag, and teams were allowed to work on the cars, rare for red-flag conditions. Race officials also dialed back the official clock to before the fuel problems arose, so the total time of the race stoppage was nearly four hours. Peter Gregg, Brian Redman, and John Fitzpatrick won.

17. In 1977, actor Paul Newman, probably the most accomplished and dedicated celebrity to take up sports-car racing, entered the first of an eventual six 24 Hours, the last coming in 2005. Clint Eastwood was a car entrant that year, Bobby Carradine was a driver (but crashed in practice), and his brother David was an entrant of the car. Lots of star power.

18. The mercurial millionaire Peter Gregg finished 11th in the Brumos Porsche in the 1980 race. Later that year, he was injured in a road crash on his way to practice for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. His injuries kept him off the track, and for a man nicknamed “Peter Perfect” and said to be manic depressive, that may have been too much. He died on a beach in Florida later that year of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

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