50 Years of Daytona
February 1, 2012
The Historian’s Desk By Lou Scalzo
Photos by Tom Morgan unless noted

Above: 1994 saw this GT class Porsche 911 GT3RS run by Kevin Buckler of The Racers Group take the overall win at the Daytona 24.
It’s like a pilgrimage – going down to sunny Florida on the last week of January to attend the first leg of the “Triple Crown of Racing”, now known as the Rolex 24. This year will mark the 50th anniversary of the famed race, and Porsche is the marque with the biggest presence, and legacy.

It all started back in 1962, shortly after the track was built. A 3-hour race was introduced as the Daytona Continental and it counted toward the FIA’s new international championship for GT manufacturers. That race was won by Dan Gurney in a 2.7 liter Coventry Climax powered Lotus 19. Gurney was driving for Porsche at the time but because the Porsche 718 would not be the right car for the big track, he raced the Lotus.

In 1964 the race was expanded to 2000km (1240 mi.), doubling the classic 1000km distance of races at Nurburgring, Spa, and Monza. At 2000km, the distance was roughly half of the distance of the 24 Hour of Le Mans and was a similar distance completed during Florida’s other big sports car race, the 12 Hours of Sebring.

Starting in 1966, the Daytona race was extended to the same 24 hour length as Le Mans. Held in January of each year when the nights are the longest, the course is made up of the high-banked NASCAR tri-oval and the infield road course which includes 2 hairpins. These days there are lights installed around the circuit for night racing, but that change did not come until just 11 years ago.

Above: Dan Gurney waits at the for the checked flag before rolling across the start/finish line to win the 1962 Daytona Continental. Right: Denver, NC based Action Express drove a Porsche Cayenne V8 powered Riley to the overall win in 2010.

In the past, a car had to cross the finish line after 24 hours to be classified, which often led to dramatic scenes where damaged cars waited in the pits or on the edge of the track close to the finish line for hours. When the race was near the end, the engines re-started and they would crawl across the finish line one last time in order to finish after the 24 hour mark and be listed with a finishing distance. This was also the case in 3-hour 1962 Daytona Continental. Dan Gurney, who had a healthy lead when his engine failed, stopped his car at the top of the banking just short of the finish line. Right before the end of the last lap, Gurney cranked the steering wheel to the left and let gravity pull the car across the finish line keeping his first place and the win! This later led to the international rule requiring a car to cross the line under it’s own power in order to be classified.

The first 24 hour event held in 1966 was one by Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby driving a Ford GT40 Mark 2. In 1967, Ferrari’s 330P4 series prototypes staged a 1-2-3 side-byside parade finish. The Ferrari 365 GTB/4 was later named the Daytona in celebration of this accomplishment. Porsche repeated the 1-2-3 parade finish in 1968 in 3 907 LH’s with Vic Elford, Jochen Neerpasch, Jo Siffert, Hans Hermann, Rolf Stommelen, Jo Schlesser, and American Joe Buzzetta all sharing the podium.

Lola finished 1-2 in the 1969 24 hours of Daytona. The winning Penske Lola T70 Chevrolets were driven by Mark Donohue and Chuck Parson’s. In 1970 and 1971, John Wyer’s famous Gulf sponsored blue and orange Porsche 917K’s took 1st place honors with Pedro Rodriguez, Leo Kinnunen, and Brain Redman in ‘70, and Pedro repeating in ’71 teaming up with Jackie Oliver.

In 1972 the race was shortened to 6 hours due to the OPEC oil crisis, and it was Ferrari once again winning in a 312PB with Mario Andretti and Jacky Ickx.

1973 was the first win for Peter Gregg and Hurley Haywood, in what would become a familiar scene, driving a 911RSR. Unfortunately the 1974 race was cancelled due to the OPEC fuel crisis. But in 1975 Brumos was a winner with Peter and Hurley in another 911RSR once again.

1976 was the year of the BMW CSL, with Peter Gregg, Hurley Haywood, and John Fitzpatrick driving and winning.

After 1976, the 24 hour became a decade long Porsche Parade, winning for 10 consecutive years from 1977 to 1987, and 18 of 23 races from 1968 to 1991. Porsche has the most overall victories of any manufacturer with 22 scored by various race models including 911, 907, 935, 962 and 996. 1977 was the last year for a 911 RSR win, entered by Ecurie Escargot Racing and driven by Hurley Haywood, John Graves, and Dave Helmick. From 1978 to 1983 it was 5 years of 935 dominance:

• 1978 - Brumos 935/77 - driven by Gregg, Haywood • 1979 - Interscope Racing 935/79 - driven by Hurley Haywood, Ted Field, Danny Ongais • 1980 - Joest Racing 935J - driven by Rienhold Joest, Rolf Stommelen, Volkert Merl • 1981 - Garretson Enterprises 935K3 - driven by Bobby Rahal, Bob Garretson, Brain Redman • 1982 - JLP Racing JLP3 935 - driven by John Paul, John Paul Jr, Rolf Stommelen • 1983 - Henn’s Swap Shop 935L - driven by A.J. Foyt, Preston Henn, Bob Wolleck, Claude Ballot-Lena • 1984 - Kreepy Krauly Racing March- Porsche 83G - driven by Sarel Van der Merwe, Tony Martin, Graham Duxbury

Just a few of the cars that brought Daytona wins to the Porsche name. From top: Al Holbert’s #14, Alex Job Racing’s #23, The JLP #18, 1984 winner Porsche Powered March #00 and the Miller sponsored 962 from 1989.

In 1985, a new era in American motorsport began. IMSA’s new GTP class allowed prototype racecars with full ground effects, similar to the cars of the European Group C endurance races where Porsche had competed successfully with its 956 starting in 1983. To meet the new IMSA regulations, the 956 was modified with a longer wheelbase for driver safety and changed its name to the 962. This new Porsche would became the dominant car in U.S. sports car racing for the rest of the ‘80s, including the 24 Hours of Daytona with 5 outright wins in the next 6 years.

• 1985 - Henn’s Swap Shop 962 - driven by A.J Foyt, Bob Wolleck, Al Unser Sr. Thierry Boutsen • 1986 - Lowenbrau Holbert Racing 962 - driven by Al Holbert, Derek Bell, Al Unser Jr • 1987 - Lowenbrau Holbert Racing 962 - driven by Al Holbert, Derek Bell, Al Unser Jr, Chip Robinson • 1988 - Castrol Jaguar Tom Walkinshaw Racing XJR9 - driven by Raul Boesel, Martin Brundle, John Nielson • 1989 - Jim Busby Miller Beer Racing 962 - driven by John Andretti, Derek Bell, Bob Wolleck, • 1990 - Budweiser Jaguar Tom Walkinshaw Racing XJR12 - driven by Davey Jones, Jan Lammers, Andy Wallace • 1991 - Joest Racing 962C - driven by Hurley Haywood, Bob Wolleck, Frank Jelinski, Henri Pescarolo, John Winter

After the 1991 IMSA season, it was becoming very apparent that only the Manufacturers and Big Money could remain competitive in prototype racing heading into the future.

Nissan and Toyota were both putting a lot of money into furthering the ground effects efficiency and privateers, who were left to keep the 962 competitive, did not have the resources to keep up with them. In 1992 a Nissan R-91 won top honors, and 1993 Dan Gurney’s Toyota Eagle took the win.

There were major changes in 1994 with a new sanctioning body buying the struggling IMSA, known as WSC or World Sports Car. The ground effect GTP cars were eliminated with the new rules restricting the top-level WSC cars to “Flat Bottom” chassis and normally aspirated engines. In the first year however, due to development and reliability issues, the prototype cars would all lose at Daytona to a factory sponsored GTS class Nissan 300ZX-Turbo. In 1995 a WSC Porsche powered Kremer K8 Spyder would take the top honors –with Marco Werner, Christophe Bouchut, Giovanni Lavaggi, and Jurgen Lassig as the drivers. The next 4 years were won by a variety of WSC engine and chassis combinations – 1996 with the Doyle Racing Oldsmoblie Aurora-powered Riley & Scott Mark III, and 1997 saw another Riley & Scott Mark III, this time from Dyson Racing.

Above: Souvenirs from the last days of IMSA’s GTP era at Daytona sees the Jaguar XJR12 chasing down the Cigarette team’s Porsche 964 and a GTU class Mazda MX6.
In 1998 there was yet another change of ownership of the sanctioning body. The series was now called United States Road Racing Championship and using the same type flat bottom prototypes rules package. First place in 1998 was the Ferrari 333SP and 1999’s winner was Dyson Racing’s R&S Mk III Ford. GT cars won in 2000 (Dodge Viper) and 2001 (Chevy Corvette) with a prototype finally returning to the winner circle in 2002 (Judd Dallara). With all these changes since 1994, the whole 24 hour race at Daytona seemed to be in jeopardy. Entry fields were often small, privateers were unhappy and many questioned if the 24 Hours of Daytona would have a future.

In 2003 yet another change of control of the 24 hour race, this time led by the France family, key owners of the Daytona track and NASCAR. The new series known as Grand-Am would feature prototypes that were made with cost controls facilitated through tighter rules. The headlining Daytona Prototype class (DP) was made up of cars with closer specification (less unique chassis), but allow a wide variety of engines. Much like the 1994 race, a GT class Porsche 911 GT3RS run by Kevin Buckler of The Racers Group, was able to overcome the new prototype cars for the overall win. Since then, it’s been DP class cars with a variety of engines taking wins; 2004 - Pontiac Doran, 2005 - Pontiac Riley, 2006 - Lexus Riley, 2007 - Lexus Riley, 2008 - Lexus Riley. 2009 was a Brumos winning year with a Porsche flat-6 powered Riley, with drivers David Donohue and Hurley Haywood. 2010 was another Porsche win by Action Express Racing with a Cheyenne V8 powered Riley, drivers Terry Borcheller, Mike Rockenfeller, Joao Barbosa and Ryan Dalziel.

It’s hard to believe that 50 years of the Daytona 24 is taking place this year. Yes the Golden years of the ‘60s and ‘70s with the 906, 907, 917’s are gone. The 935’s of the late ‘70s and early 80’s, the wonderful 962’s of the latter 80’s and early 90’s. Yeah, the Daytona Prototypes are a somewhat sterile and drab, but today there are large fields with tight racing. And it’s still twice around the clock, still at Daytona in January, and still definitely a worthwhile trip!