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.