Vacationers come from all over the country to drive on Daytona Beach. This famous stretch of Atlantic Oceanfront sand has a history that’s intrinsically tied to automobile racing, as is the city itself, home to Daytona International Speedway.
Beach driving began with racing early in the 1900s, when speedsters became interested in testing their new machines, and their own driving skills. Early racers competed on what was dubbed the Daytona Beach Road Course, a race track comprised of both Highway A1A and the beach itself. Drivers would go south for two miles, starting at the Ponce Inlet area where today a popular restaurant appropriately called “Racing’s North Turn” is found. Drivers made a turn at what is now the Beach Street beach access and headed north along the sand.
All sorts of land speed records were set in the Daytona area in the early 1900s. Many of those drivers coming to Daytona to race in the early years also used their driving skills to run liquor in the Appalachians during Prohibition.
Ransom Olds (who founded Oldsmobile) set many speed records himself in the 1920s and 1930s. Eight consecutive world speed records were set on the Daytona Beach Road Course in the eight years leading up to 1935.
Local racer Sig Haugdahl is credited with organizing the first official race for the public. The city of Daytona offered a $5,000 prize and on March 8, 1936, it surprised everyone when thousands of people turned out to watch.
The sandy turns at the north and south ends soon became impassable to cars. This caused all sorts of protests and disputes, naturally, and the event was cut short with a few laps left. Racers were livid for all sorts of reasons, and the city lost a bundle of money.
Haugdahl and auto shop owner Bill France Sr. put their heads together, and got the local Elks organization to host a second event, which also lost money. Haugdahl then bowed out, but France still saw nothing but opportunity. He began managing the course and the events, while also racing, and was soon making money at both.
Six years after that first event, France’s pursuits were put on hold when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Racing started again after World War II ended and soon mushroomed in popularity. France decided to tackle one industry-wide problem head-on: that of unethical promoters taking ticket money but not paying the drivers. He formed NASCAR® on February 21, 1948 to protect the drivers and the first NASCAR event was held on the Daytona Beach Road Course.
NASCAR events soon moved to tracks across the country, of course, eventually including Daytona International Speedway in 1959. But the tradition of driving on the beach in Daytona—where American automobile racing had such an illustrious history—was well established. No matter where official races were held, people wanted to see cars on the beach, to drive cars on the beach, and the city knew it had a goldmine of an idea. All it had to do was continue to allow this popular pastime.
Today, you can enjoy this popular activity yourself, as a spectator or a driver during your vacation. Of course, claiming the “shotgun” seat of your car allows you to do both. The slow speed limit on the beach makes people-watching the main activity… but that’s definitely a two-way street! You will be watched as much as you are watching.
Daytona’s drive-on beach is easily accessible to Bluegreen Vacations resorts Casa Del Mar Beach Resort and Daytona SeaBreeze. Head on down for your own version of NASCAR Daytona. We’ll see you on the beach.