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GREASE! Hosted By:  Cemetery Jim

March 6th, 2007

Daytona - The Old Days !

Like most of you, a couple weeks ago, I spent a lot of time watching the various races at the Daytona International Speedway on TV. Let me just share with you some of my experiences at Daytona, and my recommendations for enjoying the "Daytona Experience".

Through 1958, the racing at Daytona was done on the beach, circling up onto Route. A1A, then , eventually the hard left that took you back down onto the beach. In other words, half dirt, half asphalt. Interesting combination to set up for. That would set the team Engineers and crew chiefs of today into fits I bet.

I regret I never made it down to see them run on the beach. I did drive the old beach course myself in the 60s though. It must have really been something to race on that course. In 1959, Bill France opened the Daytona International Speedway that we see today. Rumor has it that Bill had been refused entrance to Indianapolis, and vowed he would build a better speedway, and not let the Indianapolis people in. I have no idea if there is any truth in that rumor or not. Anyway, I also missed the 1st Daytona 500, run on the new speedway in '59, however, I was there in 1960, '61, '62, '63, '64, '65, '66, '67, 'and '68.

Those were the "Wild West" days of Daytona. Seldom could you drive into downtown Daytona Beach without seeing one of the race cars being driven down the street on it's way to a garage for some repairs, or on it's way somewhere to a local car dealer to attract people in or whatever. Nobody bothered with loading the car on a trailer, "just drive er over there"! Most of the owners, drivers, mechanics, crews, and a lot of the fans hung out at Mac's Bar every night swapping tall tales, and having a good ole boy, good ole time. Well, those were the old days, and they are gone now, for better or worse, depending on how you perceive it.

Everybody should go at least once. When you drive in and park, and walk up into the the area behind the stands, you can't see the speedway, then... all of a sudden... there it is! It is breathtaking, awe inspiring, unbelievable, gigantic, gargantuan, and any other of those type terms you may want to add. The thing about it is that, every year, even though you've seen it year after year, it has the same effect. After 48 years, it is still THE speedway that defines the term "Superspeedway" !


So, you may ask, why have I not been there in almost 40 years? Well, there are several reasons. First of all, you can't get the heck out of there after the race without a helicopter. After the second year, I used to make a run for the car at the 400 mile point, put the race on the car radio, drive to my motel room, (a 15 minute drive at most then, but it would be a 5 hour drive after the race ended), and watch the last 70 miles on TV. Second of all, the best racing in Daytona on Speedweek was the midget races at Memorial Stadium in the evening. They don't have those anymore.

Then, of course, there was the infamous 37 car wreck on the first lap of what is now the Busch Grand National race but was then the Modified Sportsman race. My family's car was right in the middle of it, and every single car and driver from the northeast was out of the race on the first lap. That was in the '60s and still remains today the biggest crash in NASCAR history.

That same year the Illustrated Speedway News had a picture on the front page of a new T-Bird going down the backstretch in the 500 with the engine coming through the grill and flying out the front of the car. Now, I'm not a physics Professor, but I still don't understand how the engine can suddenly be going faster than the car it's in. Anyway the whole car just about disintegrated, and the driver wound up in the same hospital room with our driver from the 37 car crash the day before. He said the guy didn't look too good. I don't remember the driver of the T-Bird's name and I have no idea if he made it or not, but that was one weird crash! If any of you can help me with that, please write in.

Really, though, my main reason is YOU CAN'T SEE THE CARS MOST OF THE WAY AROUND THE TRACK! For me, the track is just too big. Sure, when you're sitting in the front stretch stands you can clearly see the backstretch. But, you can't tell one car from another. In fact, if you didn't already know those little tiny things going from your right to your left back there were cars, I'm not sure you could tell what they were. They just look like little things of some sort going pretty fast. YES... I had binoculars, but the area they cover is relatively small, and by the time you find the car you're looking for it's almost impossible to keep it in view. Plus, you are then looking at about 30 feet of a 2.5 mile track and you will miss anything that happens outside your little window of sight.

The best way to see the speedway is definitely in person. The best way to see the racing is definitely on TV where they have 60 million cameras and can show you everything that happens.

One other thing is the cars back in the 60s were like one shoe box sitting on top of a bigger shoe box. Definitely NOT aerodynamic. The drafting was a lot of fun to watch, and the "slingshot" was a beautiful thing to see. Now we don't have that, except, to a point, with the trucks, and I think the truck race is the best race at Daytona because of that. In those days, there were no restrictor plates either, and as far as I'm concerned those things just ruin the "racing" at Daytona and Talladega both.

I don't know what the answer is. They say the Cup Cars would be hitting 230 miles an hour without the plates, and I agree that's not safe, BUT, the plates keep the cars in two and three wide packs where they tend to bang into each other, and nobody wants to lift off the throttle to avoid ramming into someone because they know if they do, they will lose 4, 5 , 6 or more positions, and it will take them almost a whole lap to get back up to full speed. Those results of using the restrictor plates are dangerous too.

Maybe they should just reduce the maximum cubic inches from 358 to 305 for Daytona and Talladega, or a more vertical nose and windshield and no restrictor plates.

As far as me? I never ran Daytona. I sorta wanted to, but only if I could get good equipment to drive. I never did. Jackie McLaughlin, a famous and well respected driver on dirt, asphalt, stock cars, and Sprint cars, got a ride with Mel Joseph, which should have been a great car, BUT when he took it out to qualify, he was running on 7 cylinders, and didn't make the field. He did win several dirt Sprint car races in Tampa that year though.

I had started out with a hobby car and 3 partners. only one knew anything at all about building a race car from a stock 37 Ford sedan, so we didn't do too well with that car. Then I bought a 37 Ford flat back coach off of Lew Mood. He had bought it as a spare, and had no idea where it had run before. It was a red #47. It had no motor, and a locked floater rear, and a 39 Ford transmission. I borrowed Leon Manchester's trailer to bring it home on, and put it in my garage. I bought a used Franklin Quick Change off of Jackie Hamilton, and decided this time I would go Sportsman with a good car. About that time, Jackie McLaughlin was killed in Budd Olsen's # 83 car. I was a friend of Jack's and a friend of Budd's so about three days after the tragedy, I stopped over at Budd's. Budd, and his wife, Audrey,(Jackie McLaughlin's sister) were very kind to me. I hadn't been at Nazareth the night Jack got killed so I asked them what happened? The #83 car still sat on the trailer outside the kitchen window where we had our coffee. It was not badly damaged at all, and could have been ready to go by the next week.

Budd told me that two guys were having a feud on the bottom of the track, and Jackie was coming up to lap them. Jackie went wide, nowhere near them, but the one on the inside slammed into the one on his outside throwing him up into the passing Jackie. Jackie's car hit the outside wall, climbed it and went about 20 feet in the air, coming down on it's roof on top of the outside wall.

The #83 was a much more sophisticated car than I could afford to build, so I offered to buy it. Budd refused saying, no, he wanted to cut it up. But, he did sell me the trailer, the seat, the steering wheel, all the tires and wheels, a parts bin to go under the trailer very cheap. I thanked him, and took them to Sonny Dornbergers.

My car was over there being updated with new roll cage, etc. and Sonny was building the crate 327 short block I had bought from Roger Pensky.with Sonny's reworked heads, and an Isky 505 roller tappet cam. and a four barrel Dornberger Spl. Carb. He installed Jackie's racing seat, (he was not only a really good friend, but my Idol too) the new champ Car steering wheel from Jackie's car, a universal joint on the steering column, and a new roll cage.

Then they changed the rules and made partial tube frame chassis legal, and allowed a much larger setback on the engine. I suddenly had a brand new obsolete car.

Shortly after that, I got transferred to Salt Lake City, and stumbled into a ride in a pavement Sprint car, just by luck. It was an Edmunds upright, and it was fast! I won a lot of races in that car, and got pretty badly injured near the end of one season, but in the spring they had a brand new Edmunds ready for me, and we went out and won some more. That was the most fun time of my life!

So, keep Daytona for TV watching, I'll take the half and 5/8 miles.

 - Cemeteryjim


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07.17.12 Jack Burroughs

I was there both yrs. easy for me at the time as I was going to U of M in coral Gables at the time. I also went to see the Midgets in a H.S. football stadium , on the cinder track. Also saw Buck Baker's car parked on the street looked to be right off the track tires and all. Honest Charlie Speed Shop white '57 T-Bird parked in front of the bar on the corner of the beach access road. Walked the entire infield road and couldn't find 1 Jersey license plate.

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