Video: The First Daytona 500, 1959

This weekend kicks off a brand new NASCAR season with action from Daytona. To celebrate, here’s a nifty video race summary of the very first Daytona 500 in 1959. 



Stock car racing at Daytona didn’t begin with the 1959 event, of course. Before Bill France Sr. built his big 2.5-mile superspeedway, the racing took place on the white sand beach just south of town. But all through the classic beach racing years at Daytona, promoter France dreamed of a giant, high-banked raceway that could rival the mighty Indianapolis Motor Speedway in both speeds and crowds. With political backing from a city commission, a piece of land on Route 92 next to the airport, and a group of investors that included Texas oilman Clint Murchison, Pepsi-Cola, and GM executive Harley Earl, he made his dream a reality.

On February 22, 1959, a crowd of 42,000 lined up to witness the first Daytona 500—the race distance was an obvious nod to the Indy 500.  With entries from both the Grand National and the NASCAR Convertible Division, a giant field of 59 cars took the green flag, and remarkably, the race went the entire distance without a single caution flag, allowing the 500 miles to be completed in just three hours and 41 minutes. Fireball Roberts charged to the front in the early laps in his Smokey Yunick-prepared ’59 Pontiac, running a ferocious pace. But as the day wore on, the race became a two-car duel between the Oldsmobile of Lee Petty and Iowa driver Johnny Beauchamp, wheeling a Ford Thunderbird for Roy Burdick.

Beauchamp led 30 laps while Petty led 38, and with three laps remaining Petty edged out on top as they came up on Joe Weatherly’s Chevrolet to put a lap on the field. The three cars crossed the finish line on lap 200 almost simultaneously, setting up a photo finish that took NASCAR days to sort out. Yet another NASCAR legend was created, and we can share it with you here thanks to the folks at NASCAR All Out. This clip includes narration by veteran broadcaster Mike Joy and some choice original footage. Enjoy the action.


5 thoughts on “Video: The First Daytona 500, 1959

  1. I wish I could’ve been able to watch the earlier races live. Back when they were actual stock cars they had a lot more appeal to me than they do now. They still call them stock cars but IMHO they’re far from it….

    • Bring back true stockcars. The ‘things’ they race now are b/s.And these days with muscle cars available it could be better racing. Obviously the rules of about early 60s with oiling mods, some engine mods, decent rollcages, seats etc etc should be available but then the old win on Sunday sell on Monday would be good for the whole industry.

  2. It’s pretty remarkable that these cars were able to average 135 mph for four hours nonstop, given all the production parts and limited preparation.

  3. Think about todays Daytona 500. The car that sits on the pole and the last car to qualify are but a few tenths of a second difference.
    The Fireball Roberts / Smokey Yunick 59 Pontiac was TEN miles a hour faster than the winning Lee Petty 59 Oldsmobile. Contrary to what the film says about the Yunick car being tired, the facts were that when the Pontiac came in for it’s last pit stop the AC fuel pump arm had broken off. With the arm broken and doing damage to the timing chain and timing cover the car was out of the race. All the GM cars use that A/C fuel pump. That same car in 1960 was sold to Bobby Jahns who drove the car to second place finish in the 1960 Daytona 500. Jahns was in the lead with just a few laps to go then the car caught a gust of wind coming off the backstretch turn and blew out his back window which lifted the rear of the car off it’s wheels and caused him to go into the infield spinning around and recover only to play catchup to Junior Johnsons Chevy and still take 2nd place.
    Smokey’s 59;

    1960 Daytona 500 – YouTube

    ▶ 5:43

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