- Historic Sites
The Dawn Of Speed
The Florida Speed Carnivals at Daytona lasted less than a decade, but they saw American motoring grow from rich man’s sport to national obsession
November 1987 | Volume 38, Issue 7
“Me and the Benz, here,” said Barney Oldfield, “we’re gonna warm up the sand a little.”
Resumption of the Florida Speed Carnivals would have been anticlimactic after Burman’s run, so it served as the fitting finale. In 1902, when Olds and Winton were clocked at 57 mph on the beach outside the Ormond Hotel, there had been little motor sport elsewhere in America. Now there was lots—road races in Savannah, Georgia; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Santa Monica, California; Elgin, Illinois; and Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. The first of the board tracks had opened at Playa del Rey in California. And on a new brick speedway in Indianapolis, on Memorial Day weekend in 1911, promoters held a five-hundred-mile race that they promised would be an annual affair.
But it was not simply the plethora of other places to race that ended the Florida Speed Carnivals. The character of racing itself had changed. The spirited mix of amateur and pro that was a hallmark of the beach events became passé as motor sport became more of a business. Moreover, once automobiles had ceased being a novelty, most wealthy sportsmen lost interest in racing them. The Florida beach would again be used for land speed-record attempts—from 1919, when Ralph De Raima broke the Burman mark in an aero-engined Packard into the mid-thirties, when 300 mph proved too much for the beach and record breaking transferred to the greater expanse of the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Subsequently beach racing was given a raucous reprise in Daytona until the late fifties, when Bill France, Sr., founder of the National Association of Sports Car Racing (NASCAR), moved stock-car events from the sand to a permanent inland racecourse.
Today Ormond Beach proudly calls itself the “Birthplace of Speed.” And Daytona Beach takes voluble pride in its Daytona International Speedway. Old rivalries die hard.