Daytona Beach: The Beginnings

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Tucked away at the corner of an office-building complex owned by the International Speedway Corporation is a small building that contains the history of speed.

It’s the Daytona International Speedway Archives and inside it is a treasure trove of history that includes cars, photos, and files not only about the history of Daytona International Speedway, but about the history of land speed itself.

The Archives normally are only accessible as part of a VIP Tour of the speedway, but they were provided by Daytona International Speedway as part of my visit to see the Daytona Rising project.

Fifteen world land speed records were set on Daytona Beach at the beginning of the age of motorcycles and automobiles, and artifacts from that time period are contained in the archives, including models of Sir Henry Seagrave’s Golden Arrow, a part from the actual 1920 Indian motorcycle used to set the motorcycle record in 1920, and numerous rare photographs of the pioneers of speed and failed attempts that sometimes resulted in death.

There are also artifacts from Erwin George “Cannon Ball” Baker, whose 1933 record-setting cross-country drive from New York City to Los Angeles later inspired the unofficial and unsanctioned Cannonball Run in the 1970s — and the run, of course, inspired the series of CannonBall Run movies.

And, of course, there are items from the Daytona International Speedway races, including some of the original mechanic’s benches, the Speedway pavements, a classic car, and photographs too numerous to mention, though my favorite was a panoramic shot of the speedway as it originally looked in 1959. There is also a display dedicated to Dale Earnhardt, the Intimidator, who died at a crash during the Daytona 500 in 2001.

But the archives are more than a showcase for items. In a temperature-controlled vault is the history of racing in America: photographs, films and files, all carefully preserved and available for researchers.

I could have spent hours inside the vault.

Even if you’re not a racing gearhead, I’d highly recommend the tours offered by the Daytona International Speedway that include a tour of the infield, stands and these archives.

Taken together, they’re a classic piece of Americana, past, present and future.

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