For a week thesands of Daytona Beach, Fla. were gullied and pockmarked. Then, as time beganto run out a fresh northeast wind spanked the flood tide higher to pound thebeach into a smooth speedway.
From the motelrow along Daytona's Atlantic Avenue came the Detroit task force that had beensweating out the tensions of inactivity, and there began a week of fierce andresourceful automotive competition.
For thespectators it was indeed a spectacle: magnificently prepared passenger carsspeeding against the backdrop of the green Atlantic, stock racing cars hurryingalong the sands and sliding into the treacherous curves of Daytona's beach androad course. But to the giants of Detroit who moved onto the beach withunprecedented strength and determination, Daytona was a battleground in theclimactic days of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, Inc.
They were days oftriumph for Chevrolet and Pontiac, of shocked surprise and eventual success forChrysler, and of reward for Rambler, in the Speed Weeks' core events—thetop-speed and acceleration trials for passenger cars.
Rivalries aside,the beach events reinforced these conclusions: that American cars with orwithout optional speed equipment are extremely fast, with phenomenalacceleration qualities because of their high torque at medium engine speeds;and that Detroit is becoming ever more involved in motor sports—a fact thatfriends of auto racing enthusiastically appreciate.
Ironically, theautomobile industry is uncertain how to capitalize on the performances atDaytona. With congressional investigators now exploring the subject ofautomotive safety, the industry is moving very cautiously. Early last week theword was that General Motors would veer away from the theme of speed in itsadvertising after its current Chevrolet schedule ended, but after the Pontiacsuccesses at Daytona the dictum was relaxed.
It is unwise, ofcourse, to read too much into the beach competition. Top-speed trials are atraditional and exciting part of motor sport, but the speeds reached at Daytonawould be illegal on the highways. Acceleration tests are more useful (betterpickup for greater passing safety is the usual example), yet neither kind oftrial provides a well-rounded judgment of a car for the noncompetitivedriver.
Also, most of thebeach victories are won by meticulously tuned cars equipped withhigh-performance extras—cars that the average driver does not shop for(although more and more of these machines are going to keen drivers).
Perhaps the mostmeaningful test this year for the average driver, then, was the Flying Mile runfor Big Three cars fitted with a single carburetor and no special speedequipment. Chevrolet, which received plaudits for the effectiveness of its V-8engine, swept the first three places. A Ford was fourth, and the singlePlymouth entry eighth. The winning Chevvy averaged an eye-opening 118.460 mph,and even the slowest among 12 entries did 107.930, which is not dawdling.
It was not as atesting ground for the less powerful cars, however, but as a vigorouslycontested sporting event for the fastest that the Speed Weeks had the mostimpact.
Factory-supportedteams which conduct Detroit's stock car activities arrived weeks early—testing,tuning and retuning many beach competition cars as well as the racers. Then theadvertising and publicity men set up beachhead command posts along theneon-modern motel row.
Sporadic activityduring the first week of competition on the rough beach produced two noteworthyperformances. The fastest standing mile acceleration average ever recorded forSpeed Weeks was reached by a supercharged fuel-injection Thunderbird, whose312-cu.-in. engine was bored out to 338 cu. in.
Entered by PeterDe Paolo, the former Indianapolis champion who (disguised as Peter De PaoloEngineering) manages Ford's racing activities, it was driven to a 98.065-mphaverage in a one-mile race by a De Paolo man and Daytona veteran, Danny Eames.It was a portent, also, of a serious Thunderbird effort at next month'sinternational championship endurance race at Sebring, Fla.
For sheer speed,the star of the week was Wally Parks, editor of Hot Rod Magazine, who useddrag-racing know-how to squeeze an average speed of 159.89 mph from a 1957Plymouth equipped with highly modified 1956 Chrysler engine.
For the firsttime, a sports car race meeting was held during Speed Weeks. The amiable Texan,Carroll Shelby, drove his 4.9-liter Ferrari to an effortless victory in thefeature race over the twisty airport course at New Smyrna Beach. Shelby wasequally effective in a preliminary race. The New Yorker, Paul O'Shea, onceagain demonstrated his finesse with a Mercedes 300SL in winning aproduction-car event and the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED trophy.
Back at thebeach, wind and tide finally scrubbed the sands; for the next three days theatmosphere was taut.
Chevrolet pickedup all the chips on Tuesday. Cars tuned by Henry (Smokey) Yunick, the saltyDaytona Beach racing mechanic who advertises "The Best Damn Garage inTown," won the Class Four (213- to 259-cu.-in. engine capacity) top-speedtrials and the Class Five (259- to 305-cu.-in.) events, breaking the Class Fiverecord by more than 4 mph.
Smokey himself,wearing a straw cowboy hat and biting a fat cigar, drove the Class Foursix-cylinder car. His rookie racing driver Paul Goldsmith, a 30-year-oldMichigan real estate man who went from split level to sea level to compete,rolled downwind at a slightly cross-beach angle to extract every advantage fromthe wind and returned smoothly into the wind to set a Class Five average markof 131.076. Yunick's 102.157 average, although the class's only one above 100,fell below the 105.26 earned by a Dodge in 1954. Yunick, incidentally, won theBig Three event but was disqualified for using an outsize tire.
Goldsmith,driving the highly regarded new 283-cu.-in., 283-hp fuel-injection Chevvy (seeSI, Dec. 10), led an amazing parade of 34 Chevrolets through the speed traps.Only one of them placed beneath the two Ply-mouths and two Fords in the class.A motorcycle racer of the first rank for a decade, Goldsmith once broke bothhis feet in a bad spill.
It should bepointed out that Chevvy did not compete with the best cars of its naturalrival, Ford, in Class Five, because Ford's reply to the fuel-injectionChevrolet is a 312-cu.-in. supercharged model that just exceeds the maximum forthe class and, beyond that, has been moved up to the big-engined Class Sevenbecause of the supercharger. Nevertheless, the top Ford in Class Seven, placingthird, averaged 130.058, which would not have been enough to win Class Fivefrom Chevrolet.
Former GrandNational Champion Lee Petty won a five-man, $500 challenge race in a newhigh-performance Oldsmobile, shading Buck Baker with a one-way top speed of144.928 mph.
Wednesday broughtout the larger cars and the break-through by Pontiac. Not a high-performancename of note since the death last year of the factory racing manager, LouMoore, Pontiac had persistently been reported in recent weeks to have anextremely quick machine.
The reports werecorrect. A young Tulsa racing enthusiast named John Zink, who currently isriding a great streak at the Indianapolis "500," his cars having wonthe last two races, made his maiden journey on the beach in a Pontiac that hadbeen prepared in his own careful shop. The car has a 347-cu.-in., 317-hp engine(basically a larger Chevrolet engine) with a power package that includes threetwo-barrel carburetors.
On Tuesday the28-year-old Zink bettered 141 mph in an unofficial downwind run. On Wednesdayhe made the south run with a tail wind at 140.132 mph and returned at 133.185mph for a winning Class Six average of 136.571. That thoroughly erased a 1956Dodge's record of 130.577. Other Pontiacs were second and third in class.
The best theChrysler people had been able to urge from their big new 300-C was an averageof 134.128 mph to win Class Seven. To say that faces were red would be tounderstate the case, for the 300-C with maximum speed equipment is advertisedto have 390 hp, the highest in the industry.
Robert (Red)Byron, a former NASCAR driver champion who drove the leading 300-C, said thebeach was a little rough.
The 300-C, infact, did not approach the Class Seven record of last year's less powerfulChrysler 300-B, which averaged 139.373 mph. What Chrysler sorely missed,apparently, was the tuning magic of the crusty gentleman from Wisconsin, CarlKiekhaefer (SI, Feb. 11), who set up last year's car but was sitting out the1957 Speed Weeks.
When, hours afterthe trials, the Zink Pontiac was disqualified for having "an impropercompression ratio" (a volume of 64.5 cc in the No. 2 cylinder combustionchamber, instead of 65), the sigh of relief from the Chrysler group must havebeen heard all the way back to Detroit. That meant Byron's speed was the day'sfastest, for the second-place Pontiac in Class Six, driven by the trialsveteran Joe Littlejohn, averaged 131.747.
Passenger carevents on the beach ended Thursday with wholesale record-breaking in theacceleration trials.
The 300-C madeamends in Class Seven as Brewster Shaw, Daytona Beach Chrysler dealer, averaged86.873 mph for the standing mile, surpassing his own mark of 81.762 in the 1956300-B. Thirteen other cars bettered the record, with the factory Mercury of ArtChrisman second at 85.511. This was in the nature of making good, too, for theflawless, spit-and-polish work of Bill Stroppe, the man who prepares Mercury'scompetition cars, is widely known, yet his Flying Mile entrants (withdifferent-sized engines) were only 14th in Class Six and 11th in ClassSeven.
Those Pontiacscame back again to take the first two places in Class Six, an Ohioan named JimStonebraker winning with 85.308 mph. Chevrolets in platoon strength bombardedClass Five. T. Winston Parker, a Virginian, was fastest, in a fuel-injectionmodel, with 85.006.
Class Four andClass Three records went to Florida's Robert Reed in American Motors Ramblers:71.785 and 64.795 mph.
What had beenmerely a wonderful week for Pontiac became a glorious one on Sunday, at thefinish line of the 160-mile Grand National Stock Car Race on the 4.1-milebeach-road course.
The Pontiac menhad to wait for Speedy Thompson to win Friday's 125-mile Sportsman and ModifiedRace in a Chrysler-engined jalopy, and for Julius Timothy Flock, the old masterof the beach, exhorted by his mother, who is called Big Mama by her brood (sohelp me, Tennessee Williams), to snatch Saturday's 160-mile Convertible Racefrom De Paolo's hard-charging Ford drivers in a Stroppe-prepared Mercury, at arecord average speed of 101.32 mph.
It was worthwaiting for. Three racing Pontiacs led Sunday's race at the end of twolaps—Zink's, which subsequently crashed, and two factory machines, one of whichhad mechanical trouble. These were tuned by a former Indianapolis "500"mechanic, Ray Nichels, who was not only making his maiden effort at Daytonalike Zink, but was campaigning the cars for the first time.
It became atwo-car race, a duel between the Pontiac of Everett (Cotton) Owens, a towheadedSouth Carolinian, and the fuel-injection Chevrolet of black-helmeted PaulGoldsmith. Goldsmith seemed certain to win when, with six laps remaining, hewas forced out of the race with a blown piston.
The 32-year-oldOwens, keeping to the high and dry side of the sands on the two-mile beach leg,as he had all afternoon, won with an average of 101.6 mph, 9 mph faster thanFlock's record 1955 victory in a Chrysler.
On his last lap,as Nichels heard out the race on radio, with a tiny speaker plugged into hisear, Owens was flashed an eloquent pig signal: "Cotton—$$."
Then Pontiacpandemonium, as they say, reigned.
An interestingspectator named S. E. (Bunky) Knudsen, a GM vice-president and Pontiac generalmanager, headed for the winner.
"I am veryhappy," said Knudsen, "and very proud."
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
HOW DETROIT PASSENGER CARS DID AT DAYTONA
2nd, Class 7 Flying Mile; 8th, Cl. 7 Acceleration
First 33 places, Class 5 Flying Mile; 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Big Three Flying Mile;1st, 2nd, 3rd, Cl. 4 Flying Mile; first 18 places, Cl. 5 Acceleration; 2nd,3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, Cl. 4 Acceleration
1st, Class 7 Flying Mile; 1st, Cl. 7 Acceleration
7th, Class 6 Acceleration
4th, Class 7 Flying Mile; 4th, Cl. 7 Acceleration; 22nd, Cl. 6 Flying Mile
4th, Big Three Flying Mile; 4th, Class 4 Flying Mile; 36th, Cl. 5 Flying Mile;5th, Cl. 6 Flying Mile; 3rd, Cl. 7 Flying Mile; 8th, Cl. 4 Acceleration; 19th,Cl. 5 Acceleration; 4th, Cl. 6 Acceleration; 3rd, Cl. 7 Acceleration
2nd, Class 7 Acceleration; 11th, Cl. 7 Flying Mile; 14th, Cl. 6 Flying Mile
10th, Class 7 Flying Mile; 14th, Cl. 7 Acceleration
1st, 2nd, 3rd, Class 6 Flying Mile; 1st, 2nd, Cl. 6 Acceleration
11th, Class 4 Flying Mile; 34th, Cl. 5 Flying Mile; 4th, Cl. 6 Flying Mile;9th, Cl. 4 Acceleration; 3rd, Cl. 8 Acceleration
1st, Class 3 Acceleration; 1st, Cl. 4 Acceleration
¬†CHECKERED FLAG GREETS DODGE AT COMPLETION OF ONE OF NASCAR'S 13 SPEED TRIALSOVER MEASURED MILE ON THE DAYTONA BEACH COURSE
CHEVVY VICTORY PARADE WAS LED BY GOLDSMITH IN FLYING MILE
MERCURY CONVERTIBLE TOOK FLOCK TO RECORD-BREAKING 101.32