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Bend an Ear to the Mad Music of Daytona


To its followers stock-car racing is a spectacular and happy marriage of speed and sound. At tracks such as Daytona's International Speedway there is a Niagara of noise: unmuffled Fords and Mercurys, Plymouths and Dodges racing at speeds of 180 mph and more, placing the spectators in an atmosphere of sound so intense and vibratory that they feel themselves not mere witnesses but participants in the action. As Sunday's Daytona 500-mile race approaches—that meeting of the Yarbroughs, Pettys and Foyts for a $182,000 purse and the opportunity to speak to 200,000 eardrums—Photographer Phillip Leonian attempts in these pages to show the scene as the fans themselves see and feel it. His technique is to isolate tiny portions of color transparencies and magnify them enormously. Here, then, is not the controlled clarity of golf or baseball but the throb of a tumultuous, mercurial activity which, once sampled, can be addictive. Not so long ago Daytona's 500 was a regional curiosity. Today it rivals the Indianapolis 500 in its claims on the viscera of the speed fan.

In part it is an orderly, craftsman's world of tools and engines, involving the most painstaking care to make things right. But when trouble comes and a driver is sliding out of control at frightening speeds, his only tools are reflexes and luck. The unluckiest ones meet walls or guardrails. Sometimes they roll or get airborne. At times of greatest dread they need the firemen.

The 500 is also a flagman signaling an accident, VIP fans on platforms above the crowd and a photographer closing in on Victory Lane to shoot the winner.