Monday, February 27, 2017

Daytona preserves NASCAR history

Well, the 2017 Daytona 500 is over. Kurt Busch earned his spot in NASCAR history and will be enshrined on the Harley J. Earl trophy. From the early days of racing on the beach, to the iconic two-and-a-half mile tri-oval, Daytona has had its fair share of historic moments. Luckily, there is an effort to preserve some of that history, and you can see quite a bit of it with a Daytona VIP Tour. We were there a few months ago to see this exhibit firsthand, and as usual, I brought back a few pictures to share.

It’s also worth noting that if you go there now, the display is even better. During Speedweeks, The Motorsports Hall of Fame and Museum of America had the grand opening of their new location at the Daytona International Speedway. The area where the Hall of Fame is located used to be the Daytona, USA Museum. I visited it years ago, and it was really cool. Unfortunately, it was closed while we were there as they converted the space. Before coming here, The Motorsports Hall of Fame was in Detroit. You can see the article I wrote about the old location at this link. I have no doubt that the move to Daytona was a huge upgrade for these guys.

These Daytona tours take you out on the track, up in the grandstands, and out to the International Speedway Corporation (ISC) Archives and Research Center. Along the way, you get to see all kinds of neat mementos and artifacts. This ’67 Firebird, for example, was the pace car for the’67 Daytona 500. It is covered with autographs from some of the best drivers, crew guys, and personalities ever to participate in NASCAR. One interesting thing about this particular car is that it was equipped with a rarely seen dual-overhead-cam, 3.8-liter inline six. This was a pretty sophisticated engine, but never really caught on with buyers. Mario Andretti won the ’67 500 in a Holman-Moody Ford.

The coolest car in the place to me was this 1960 Pontiac, which is a replica of the car Marvin Panch drove to victory in the 1961 Daytona 500. Panch himself actually had this car built in the 2000s, and used many of the parts that owner Smokey Yunick still had in storage from the original car. This car was not supposed to win. It wasn’t even going to be at the race. Panch became Fireball Roberts’ teammate at the last minute. Yunick let him drive this year-old Pontiac, while the sleek new ’61 Pontiacs got all the headlines. I love that this car still has the original tri-color Morrokide bucket seat and door panels, and even the stock dashboard. Sure, this car was significantly tweaked and beefed-up, but it was still a “stock” car.

The Archives and Research Center also has a recreation of Bill France, Sr.’s office. It looks like it was frozen in time in about 1980, with wood paneling, a rotary phone, and a collection of baseball caps. While these are not particularly opulent surroundings, you can almost feel the NASCAR history here. Plenty of meetings, business deals, and rules changes happened around this modest wooden desk. The only thing that doesn’t seem authentic about this display is that no one is chain smoking Winston cigarettes in here.

As I mentioned, the tour also takes you out on the track, inside victory lane, and through a display with the previous year’s Daytona 500 winning car. The 2016 winner was Denny Hamlin, and this is what his car looked like when they rolled it out of the victory lane celebration. They were also getting ready for a big hot rod show at the track, but we were a day early, and they wouldn’t let me get out of the tour bus and check out what was there. It was killing me, I tell ya’. Killing me.

If you’d like to see more pictures from our Daytona Speedway tour, click this link.

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