The Rolex 24 at Daytona 50th Anniversary Heritage Display – Bringing Racing History Back To Life
By Louis Galanos | Photos by Louis Galanos and as noted
Well over a year ago the Daytona International Speedway (DIS) embarked on a task that even the great Hercules might have shied away from. That is to search the world over for every car that ever won, what we now call the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and transport them to Daytona Beach, Florida for a 50th anniversary reunion and heritage display.
Tim Pendergast of Jacksonville, Florida was hired by the Speedway to track down these historic automobiles and get permission from the current owners to showcase them in the temporary building the Speedway was constructing on the grounds in front of the Speedway. Pendergast is a vintage car expert and has worked with Speedway president Joie Chitwood III in the past in locating and displaying historic cars.
Of the 45 cars (some had won more than once) that had won at Daytona almost half were easily located because they had been featured in automotive publications, raced in historic events or ensconced in automotive museums. Locating the rest would require some good old-fashioned detective work which meant long hours on the phone talking to sources or in front of a computer sending out dozens of emails to automotive contacts around the world.
In the end 29 historic cars were assembled at the 2012 Daytona 24 Hours on January 26 – 29 for a once-in-a-lifetime reunion of vintage racing machines. The cars that didn’t show or couldn’t be located are a story unto themselves.
The owners of some of these historic cars just didn’t want to be bothered, which is amazing in itself. For some of the no-show cars it would have cost the Speedway a small fortune to ship them to the United States. Just to transport the winning Porsches from 1980 and 1991 to the U.S. from Europe would have cost $56,000 and that didn’t include any fees to the owners. The Speedway decided to pass on that.
The Nissan R91CP that won Daytona in 1992 was in the Nissan museum in Japan and would not be coming. The Ferrari 333SP driven by the late Gianpiero Moretti to victory in 1998 couldn’t be located even after the Speedway issued a worldwide alert for the car. In fact not a single one of the five winning Ferrari cars made it to Daytona for the reunion, a real disappointment for Ferrari fans.
A couple of the cars didn’t make it because they no longer exist. One was the Brumos Porsche 911 Carrera RSR that Peter Gregg and Hurley Haywood drove to victory in 1973. After the 1973 race it was shipped back to the Porsche factory in Germany where engineers disassembled it in order to examine every modification made to it. The intent was to find out what worked and didn’t work in order to build more race winning cars.
In 1975 (no race in 1974 due to the energy crisis) Gregg and Haywood won again in another Porsche 911 Carrera RSR. Later that car was sold to the Diego Febles Racing Team but on a fateful day in Mexico the truck carrying the car went off a mountain road and the race car was destroyed. No idea what happened to the driver of the truck but no doubt it was not good.
The official beginning of the 50th anniversary celebration did not occur at the Speedway but at the Daytona Beach Ocean Center the evening of January 26, 2012 where the historic cars were displayed, food was served and speeches were given by many notables from the racing community.
The following morning (Friday the 27th) the cars were driven on the streets of Daytona approximately five miles to the Speedway much to the delight of the hundreds of spectators who lined the sidewalks. The route had to be carefully planned to avoid manhole covers and rough pavement since many of the 25 cars that made the trip had very low clearances.
On race day (Saturday the 28th) the vintage cars were brought to the track for a 50th anniversary photo session at the start-finish line. This would be followed by the cars doing several laps around the track with some being driven by legendary drivers like Brian Redman, Bobby Rahal and Dario Franchitti. The photo shoot was delayed by several minutes because several hundred overeager fans, myself included, rushed over the pit walls and across the grass area in front of the start finish to get photos of the cars and drivers. Not until a platoon of track security guys showed up did the crowds disperse so the Speedway could take the photos they wanted.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal was right when they indicated that the reunion of all these previous winning race cars was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For racing fans young and old alike at Daytona this January, the 2012 Rolex 24 At Daytona will be a race to remember.