Henry Ford, his six-cylinder racer, and Daytona Beach
On January 12, 1904, Henry Ford drove his latest racing car over the ice of Lake St. Clair in Michigan at 91.37 mph, the fastest automobile speed thus far recorded in the Americas. The speed mark had been allowed by the AAA on January 20. Across the Atlantic, European motor-sport officialdom just snickered and would not even consider it. But the sand would certainly qualify as land anywhere. To Daytona goes the credit for the beach racing idea, its smooth and firm sand made it the finest natural racecourse in the world. So in 1905, Ford took his latest race car to Daytona beach. But, Ford had no luck that year in claiming the land speed record—his crankshafts kept breaking.
Both Ford and competitor Ransom Olds were both disappointed with their cars’ performances on the beaches of Daytona. Each returned to Michigan to focus attention on manufacturing. Ford soon began the development of a new production model designated the T and Olds went home to add a truck to his Reo line.
At the beginning of the twentieth century the Florida Speed Carnivals at Daytona, that Olds, Ford, and many racing greats competed in, lasted less than a decade, but it saw American motoring grow from a rich man’s sport to a national obsession.
I had the opportunity of walking the beaches of Daytona last year. The sand there is firm and hard, your foot barely leaves an impression on the sand. I enjoy history. Being in places where history was made, where others have gone before, has a way of touching me in a special way. As I walked down that beach where racers of days gone by had driven into history, I could see them in my mind’s eye with their cars screaming down the hard beach sand, balancing between control and catastrophe, trying to do something no one before they had done—to be the fastest.