When the old Daytona beach-road course held its last race in 1958 and the NASCAR Cup Series (then Grand National Series) moved to the new high banks for Daytona International Speedway, it didn’t mean the end of road course racing in the Daytona Beach area.
When Big Bill France built the gigantic 2.5-mile, 31-degree banked Speedway, he made sure to include a unique road course layout, utilizing both the high banks as well as an infield course. The first DAYTONA 200 motorcycle race inside DIS took place in 1961 while the first Rolex 24 At DAYTONA sports car race (then a three-hour event) was held in 1962. Many do not know, however, that the actual first race on the new road course was on January 31, 1960, and featuring Compact “stock” Cars – one driven by “The King,” Richard Petty.
“I had never been on a road course and I didn’t stay on this but for about two laps,” laughed Petty, who at the time was just 22 years old. “That is what happened. I think I made it around one lap and then the next lap I made about two thirds of the track. Before I got back on the big track (high banks), I had crashed, knocking off the frontend. You have to figure – a 21-22 year old kid…never been on a road course…and I am gonna win the race on the first lap…it didn’t work out for me.”
The Compact Cars were smaller stock cars, featuring the likes of Chevrolet Corvairs, Ford Falcons, Volvos, Plymouth Valiants and more. Petty, along with his father Lee, competed in the 10-lap event on what was then a 3.81-mile course. What made the race unique was the fact that the drivers ran in the opposite direction – backwards - of the way races are conducted today – the trioval track’s Turn Four was actually Turn 1 for this event.
“We didn’t know the difference,” said Petty, the 7-time DAYTONA 500 Champion, said this week. “I had never run a road course anyway. I didn’t know which way you were supposed to run. I just tried to race like everyone else did. It worked out pretty good. When they came back in 61, they ran the track backwards (again).
“We had never run those kind of cars. We didn’t know anything about the road course until we got there. There was really no setup. What you left home with is what you ran. We didn’t have any extra parts for the car or nothing. The car was pretty stock. They did work on the motors on the Valiant to make it a little stronger than just a plain stock motor.”
As a result of his accident, Petty, piloting his No. 43 Valiant, finished next to last, but he was in good company – ahead of him was Fireball Roberts and behind was Curtis Turner. Valiants took the top seven spots with Marvin Panch (who would also claim the ’61 DAYTONA 500) the winner. A year later, he would win the DAYTONA 500. Lee Petty, who won the inaugural DAYTONA 500 in ’59, would come home sixth, but the following year in ’61, he would get to celebrate a triumph. That year would see the second - and final - Compact Car race on the DAYTONA Road Course. Richard, however, didn’t come back in ’61.
“The reason I didn’t run that year is that I wrecked my car in ’60,” added Richard, who would go on to capture six NASCAR Cup Series road course wins in his career. “We had just two cars (one for Richard and one for Lee). We didn’t even mess with my car (again after wreck). My Dad had seen I wasn’t too much on road courses so the best thing to do was to leave the car at home.”
While it only had a two-year stint, the Compact Cars set the stage for smaller NASCAR stock car-style series later in the ‘60s and midway through the ‘70s. Those events, too, had some big names to compete, as we will see in the next installment of this series.
Road course racing – NASCAR Cup style - is back in Daytona Beach, Fla. after running on the old beach-road course from 1949-58. A limited number of fans will get the opportunity to see the Go Bowling 235 At The DAYTONA Road Course, along with the Sunoco 159 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race, on Sunday, Aug. 16. Fans can get tickets, which start at $49 (both races included) for adults and $10 for kids 12 years old and younger, by visiting www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or calling 1-800-PIT-SHOP.
The weekend kicks off Friday with the General Tire 100 ARCA Menards Series on Friday at 5:00 p.m. ET (MAVTV) while the NASCAR Xfinity Series UNOH 188 is set for Saturday at 3:00 p.m. ET (NBCSN).