For seven days, while perverse winds and tides conspired against the best-laid plans of the mechanical age, America's annual salute to speed on the classic sands of Daytona Beach, Florida, was at a virtual standstill. Instead of high-powered automobiles flashing down the stretch, road graders and bulldozers shuffled back and forth vainly trying to smooth out pits and gullies in the sand which one night of northeast winds and a high tide would have packed like an airport runway. Day by day, officials of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, drivers and increasingly disgruntled spectators made the pilgrimage to the sea, looked and headed glumly back to motels and garages again.
But when the speed trials came to life, they did so with a bang and a roar. Before they were over, Daytona had a triple-crowned hero, several new records, more fuel on the fires of a firmly established feud between two leading Detroit manufacturers in the burgeoning field of U.S. sports cars, spills, thrills and a full-fledged riot which was quieted only by the National Guard. It was a week to remember.
The man to remember was a tall, lean, ex-fireman, ex-cab driver and father of five: Julius Timothy Flock of Atlanta, Georgia (left). For the second year running, Tim Flock captured the week's top race, the 160-mile Grand National Circuit, and the new SPORTS ILLUSTRATED trophy, last Sunday. Not only that; he also racked up a record qualifying time of 135.74 mph in his big Chrysler 300B, drove the same type of car to victory and a new record in the passenger-car time trials over a measured mile with a 139.373 mph average and ran away with the 125-mile Sportsman and Modified Race in a red-hot 1939 Chevrolet powered with a 1956 Oldsmobile fuel-injection engine.
From the time he first drove onto the beach on Wednesday, it seemed as though nothing could stop Tim Flock. And, in fact, nothing could. It was a rain-soaked, wreck-strewn race he wove his way through on Sunday in his climactic victory, but he drove with needle-threading accuracy all the way. Though 38 of the 75 cars entered were out before the race was over, though car after car spun out, cracked up or otherwise got into trouble on the mudslick north and south turns and the race was finally cut off eight miles short of the scheduled finish line because the tide was lapping at the beach course, Flock's Chrysler hardly ever wavered. Seldom spectacular, except in his meticulous skill in holding the big car on the hairline that separated speed from spin, he won with an average of 90.83 mph, 57 seconds ahead of Runner-up Billy Myers, of Germanton, N.C., in a Mercury.
March 5, 1956
But if Tim Flock dominated the stock cars, NASCAR's particular concern, there was almost as much interest this year in a field formerly virtually pre-empted by foreign entries—the sports cars. This time American speedsters led the way all the way. What they did, and how they did it, promised an exciting future for enthusiasts of the breed.
Lined up in what amounted to a factory competition were three Chevrolet Corvettes, painted in American racing colors of white and blue, and a sleek black Thunderbird. Zora Arkus-Duntov, Chevrolet's imported European racing engineer, headed the Corvette team which was entered by Richard Doane of Raceways Enterprises in Dundee, Illinois; and Pete De Paolo, an oldtime racing great now working under Ford's banner, entered the Thunderbird, driven by Chuck Daigh. And right away things began to happen.
In their first trial, the Corvettes and the Thunderbird squared off in the acceleration test, one mile from a standing start. The T-Bird flashed down the strip for an average of 92.14 mph, shattering the brand-new record for production sports cars set barely a month before at Daytona by Arkus-Duntov in a Corvette. This time the Corvette trailed at 86.684 mph.
Promptly the decision was protested. The Thunderbird, said Doane, was modified. Bill France, NASCAR's president, had both cars inspected. Both were found to have cylinders overbored in excess of regulations, the Corvette by 33/1,000ths of an inch, the Thunderbird by 40/1,000ths. When the argument was over, France announced that both violations were due to a misinterpretation of the rules, and that the tests would be restaged with new, regulation engines in both cars. This time it was official: Chuck Daigh in the Thunderbird, 88.779 mph; William Norkett of Chicago in another, privately entered Thunderbird, 87.869; John Fitch in the Corvette, 86.872. Round One was clearly Ford's.
Round Two, however, was a different story. In the two-way flying mile, a test of pure speed, the Corvette won hands down. Fitch sped southward down the beach at a sizzling 154.972 mph, turned, sped back (against the wind which helped him before) at 137.195 for a 145.543 average. Betty Skelton, the pert little auburn-haired aviatrix-driver, ran her Corvette second with a southbound time of 145.044 mph and a 137.773 average. Nine privately entered T-birds followed in close order, headed by Andrew Hotton, of Dearborn, Michigan, with an average of 134.404. Chuck Daigh's Thunderbird did not compete.
The Corvettes underscored their claim as kings of pure speed by racking up the fastest time of any car on the beach when Arkus-Duntov drove a modified car (with tail fin, bellypan and increased compression) down the stretch at a flashing 155.642 for the southbound run and a 147.300 mph average. Even a Grand Prix Ferrari, driven in a class by itself by Bill Holland, couldn't reach that one-way speed, although Holland's two-way average of 148.087 mph was higher.
In between there were other excitements—and disappointments. Danny Eames, chief test driver for Dodge, racked up two victories in the strictly stock division (no tricks like shaving treads off tires for smoother running), averaging 130.577 mph (a new record) in the flying mile, 81.786 in the standing mile. Vicki Wood of Detroit, like Betty Skelton a woman in a man's class, actually turned in a faster top speed for the flying mile than winner Tim Flock, in the same car, a Chrysler 300-B, when she ripped off the southbound run at 143.827 mph. Curtis Turner, a Virginia sportsman-lumberman, came back after a nearly disastrous fire in the Sportsman and Modified Race to win the new feature for convertibles, a 160-mile race on the Daytona circuit, with a record 96.11 mph average in a 1956 Ford. On the disappointment side were the departures, after nearly a week of waiting, of sports car aces Jim Kimberly and Briggs Cunningham, whose very fast cars—a 4.4 Ferrari and a D-Jaguar respectively—never really got a chance to show what they could do.
There were the inevitable hassles, too. John Fitch, late of Germany's Mercedes team, had a close brush with disqualification when his production Corvette was found to be weighted for better traction in an acceleration run. Frank Zirbes, of Fairview Park, Ohio, finishing eighth in the flying mile for production sports cars in his Thunderbird, was switched post factum to the Modified Sports Car class when his car was ruled to be not a strictly production model, and surprisingly found himself finishing second there (to Arkus-Duntov's tail-finned Corvette).
But the biggest hassle of all was totally unexpected—and, for a while, seemed likely to be totally final. On the night before the climactic Grand National race, 3,000 teen-age hot-rodders suddenly went berserk and stood the town of Daytona Beach on its ear. From informal drag races they went on to a rock-throwing, tire-slashing, window-breaking rampage which quickly overwhelmed the local police force and terrified residents and visitors alike. It was not until National Guard troops with loaded carbines arrived that the mob was brought under control.
A cynic—or a psychologist—might say that after a week of frustration followed by a week of violent speed the mob outbreak of youngsters was hardly surprising. For most of the 32,000 who trooped out to watch Tim Flock win the next day, it was almost a forgotten incident. As for Flock's victory, it would live for a year—but the fires lit in Detroit by the Corvette-Thunderbird duel are likely to burn brightly for a long and suspenseful time.
Despite its troubles with wind, tides and mobs, this year's week of speed at Daytona was another great success, both from the industry and the spectator standpoint. Yet one thing persisted to mar the colorful picture—cheating. As SI pointed out a year ago (March 14), if competitors in automotive events are to win and hold the full respect of the sporting public, they must richen up their mixture with some high-test honesty.
GRAND NATIONAL STOCK CAR RACE—160 miles (race ended after 152 miles), Late Model Stock Cars—Winner: Tim Flock, 1956 Chrysler 300B—qualifying speed 135.747; 90.83 mph average; Second: Billy Myers, 1956 Mercury; Third: Ralph Moody, 1956 Ford.
NASCAR NATIONAL CONVERTIBLE CHAMPIONSHIP RACE—160 miles, Late Model Convertibles—Winner: Curtis Turner, 1956 Ford—not qualified; 96.11 mph average; Second: Glenn Roberts, 1956 Ford; Third: Herb Thomas, 1956 Chevrolet.
SPORTSMAN AND MODIFIED STOCK CAR RACE—125 miles—Winner: Tim Flock, 1939 Chevrolet, Oldsmobile fuel-injection—qualifying speed 137.405; 89.41 mph average; Second: Glen Wood, '40 Ford Sportsman; Third: Billy Myers, '37 Ford Sportsman.
FLYING MILE RUNS (southbound, northbound and averge times)
1956 U.S. PASSENGER CARS—Class 7—Over 350 Cubic Inches—Tim Flock, Atlanta, Ga. '56 Chrysler 300B, 142.914, 136.003, 139.373; Vicki Wood, Detroit, Mich. '56 Chrysler 300B, 143.827, 129.125, 136.081; Warren Koechling, Miami, Fla. '56 Chrysler 300B, 132.792, 125.435, 129.009.
Class 6—305 to 3 50 Cubic Inches—Danny Eames, Manhattan Beach, Calif. '56 Dodge D-500, 133.038, 128.205, 130.577; Nicky Griffin, Detroit, Mich. '56 Mercury, 131.868, 119.840, 125.567; Billy Myers, Germantown, N.C. '56 Mercury, 128.205, 121.008, 124.503.
Class 5—259 to 305 Cubic Inches—Murray Hartley, Erie, Pa. '56 Chevrolet, 126.895, 116.241, 121.335; Raymond Fulmer Jr., Saluda, S.C.'56 Chevrolet, 123.414, 115.348, 119.245; Joe Weatherly, Norfolk, Va. '56 Ford, 121.704, 114.759, 118.130.
Class 4—213 to 259 Cubic Inches—Frieda Herrmann, Detroit, Mich. '56 Ford, 94.093, 86.497, 90.135.
LADIES' CLASS—U.S. PRODUCTION PASSENGER CARS—Vicki Wood, Detroit, Mich. '56 Chrysler 300B, 143.827, 129.125, 136.081; Nicky Griffin, Detroit, Mich. '56 Mercury, 131.868, 119.840, 125.567; Frieda Herrmann, Detroit, Mich. '56 Ford, 94.093, 86.497, 90.135.
U.S. PRODUCTION SPORTS CARS—JohnFitch, Stamford, Conn. '56 Chevrolet Corvette, 154.972, 137.195, 145.543; Betty Skelton, Winter Haven, Fla.'56 Chevrolet Corvette, 145.044, 131.195, 137.773; Andrew Hotton, Dearborn, Mich.'56 Thunderbird, 141.621, 127.886, 134.404.
U.S. PRODUCTION MODIFIED SPORTS CARS—Zora Arkus-Duntov, Grosse Pointe, Mich. '56 Chevrolet Corvette, 155.642, 139.806, 147.300.
PROTOTYPE CARS—Vern Houle, California. '56 Mercury, 152.931, 142.012, 147.269; Phil Walters, Hicksville, N.Y. '56 Plymouth Fury, 143.598, 129.917, 136.415.
EUROPEAN SPORTS CARS—Unlimited Cost or Displacement—King Pannier, Canton, Ohio. Allard K3, 105.325, 117.570, 111.111.
Under $4,000 Delivered in New York-Howard J. Meeker, Ft. Wayne, Ind. '56 Jaguar XK140MC, 134.730, 133.432, 134.078; Philip H. Stiles, Palm Beach, Fla. '55 Austin-Healey, 129.125, 126.895, 128.000; James McLeod, Paducah, Ky. '56 Jaguar XK140, 114.906, 102.302, 108.238.
Under $3,000 Delivered in New York—Fred Pfisterer, Mt. Vernon, N.Y. '56 Austin-Healey, 103.508, 98.738, 101.067.
Under 1,500 CC Displacement—Wm. J. Buff III, Red Bank, N.J. '53 Porsche, 112.641, 97.667, 104.621.
Under 75 Cubic Inches—John Been, Shrewsbury, N.J. '56 Volkswagen, 73.983, 62.208, 67.586.
GRAND PRIX CLASS—Bill Holland, Indianapolis, Ind. 4.5-Liter Ferrari, 152.349, 144.058, 148.087.
ACCELERATION RUNS—STANDING START
U.S. PRODUCTION PASSENGER CARS—Class 7—Over 350 Cubic Inches—Brewster Shaw, Daytona Beach, Fla. '56 Chrysler 300B, 81.762; Warren Koechling, Miami, Fla. '56 Chrysler 300B, 79.952; Ed Williams, Fithian, Ill. '56 Lincoln, 79.878.
Class 6—305 to 350 Cubic Inches—Danny Eames, Manhattan Beach, Calif. '56 Dodge D-500, 81.786; Art Chrisman, Compton, Calif. '56 Mercury, 81.008; Dean Martin, Daytona Beach, Fla. '56 Dodge D-500, 76.742.
Class 5—259 to 305 Cubic Inches—Ned E. Decker, Sherwood, Ohio '56 Chev. 81.392; James W. UmLauf, Allen Park, Mich. '56 Ford, 80.844; Betty Skelton, Winter Haven, Fla. '56 Chev., 80.699.
U.S. PRODUCTION SPORTS CARS—Chuck Daigh, Long Beach, Calif. '56 Ford Thunderbird, 88.779; William Norkett, Chicago, Ill. '56 Ford Thunderbird, 87.869; John Fitch, Stamford, Conn. '56 Chev. Corvette, 86.872.
LADIES' SPORTS CAR CLASS—Betty Skelton, Winter Haven, Fla. '56 Chev. Corvette, 85.531; Suzanne La Fountain, Highland, N.J. '55 Ford Thunderbird, 76.287.
U.S. MODIFIED SPORTS CARS—Zora Arkus-Duntov, Grosse Pointe, Mich. '56 Chev. Corvette, 89.753; Frank L. Zirbes, Fairview Park, Ohio '55 Ford Thunderbird, 82.285.
EUROPEAN AND/OR U.S. PRODUCTION SPORTS CARS—Unlimited Cost or Displacement—James H. Kimberly, Chicago, Ill. Ferrari 375, 88.648.
UNDER $3,000 DELIVERED IN NEW YORK—Fred C. Pfisterer, Mt. Vernon, N.Y. '56 Austin-Healey, 70.616.
UNDER 1,500 CC DISPLACEMENT—William Buff III, Red Bank, N.J. '53 Porsche, 72.610.
UNDER 75 CUBIC INCHES DISPLACEMENT—John Been, Shrewsbury, N.J. '56 Volkswagen, 53.683.
EUROPEAN SEDAN CLASS—Pepper Cunningham, Hamilton Square, N.J. '54 Jaguar Mark VII, 67.139.
HYBRID U.S. PASSENGER CARS—Richard Dwight Giffin, Lansing, Mich. '53 Studil-lac, 86.455; Charles Rehl, Millersport, Ohio '56 Ford Sta. Wgn., 75.725; Suzanne La Fountain, Highland, N.J. '56 Ford Sta. Wgn., 70.950.
HOT RODS—Jim Stapleton, Savannah, Ga. 33 Fordsler, 83.955; James Davis, Lorton, Va. '32 Ford, 78.328.
TRUCKS—Smokey Yunick, Daytona Beach, Fla. '56 Chev. Pickup, 89.524; L. Merritt Brown, Daytona Beach, Fla. '56 Ford F 100 Truck, 81.008.