On this day in... 1959

22nd February 2017
Henry Hope-Frost

After a decade of NASCAR’s eager racers having to tear up the nearby Daytona beach, America’s spiritual site of speed, the burgeoning stock car series needed a new home. And in 1959, thanks to the vision, clout and cash of Bill France, it got one – in the shape of the Daytona International Speedway.

Since the inauguration of NASCAR’s top-tier Strictly Stock class in 1949, home-grown racers had converged on the sand for Florida’s championship round. What they faced for the third round of the 44-round series on this day in ’59 was a high-speed, high-banked, 2.5-mile tri-oval.

Bob Welborn, who’d won the opening two races of the season at Fayetteville at the end of ’58 and on Daytona beach just two days before arriving at the Speedway, continued his good form by securing pole position – at 140.121mph – in a Chevrolet.

Once the historic event, set to last nearly four hours, got underway the nose-to-tail, doorhandle-to-doorhandle slipstreamer that would come to characterise the Daytona 500 took place. Six different drivers led the race, including Fireball Roberts who’d charged through the field from 46th on the grid!  

With a quarter of the 200 laps remaining, the defining battle of the race unfolded with Lee Petty (who’d qualified 15th) and Johnny Beauchamp (21st) engaging in a fierce duel for victory. Petty’s Oldsmobile and Beauchamp’s Ford swapped the lead a dozen times, crossing the line as one to complete the 500 miles having had to dice through the final corners with the Chevrolet of Joe Weatherley that had gone a lap down. 

Initially, Beauchamp was declared the winner, but circuit owner and race promoter Bill France wasn’t convinced, appealing for photographs and cine film evidence to clear up the issue once and for all.  

Sure enough, on the Wednesday after the race, Petty was finally declared the winner of what’s still NASCAR’s biggest race.

Daytona 500, 1959

1. Lee Petty (USA) – 1959 Oldsmobile, 200 laps

2. Johnny Beauchamp (USA) – 1959 Ford, 200 laps

3. Charley Griffith (USA) – 1957 Pontiac, 199 laps

4. Cotton Owens (USA) – 1958 Pontiac, 199 laps

5. Joe Weatherley (USA) – 1959 Chevrolet, 199 laps

6. Jim Reed (USA) – 1959 Chevrolet, 196 laps

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