Having stood for nearly 60 years and even after hosted hundreds of racing events, there are plenty of things still relatively unknown about Daytona International Speedway. As we search to uncover answers to some of the most asked about subjects related to DIS, we turn to the Senior Manager at the ISC Archives and Research Center, Herb Branham, for answers.
Q: Why did Bill France Sr. decide to build Daytona International Speedway with such high banking, instead of a flat track or minimal banking? What made him decide on a design so unique for the time? Can you tell us any story behind the vision of that decision-making process?
A: Big Bill wanted a race track that would stand tall next to Indianapolis, another 2.5-mile oval.
He wanted his track to be big – not necessarily bigger – but he also wanted a design that would enable stock cars to chase unprecedented speeds and for that, the flatness of Indy would not do. So he went about constructing an oval that was the same distance around as Indy, but with the added wrinkle of 31-degree banking in the turns.
Bill Sr. envisioned extreme banks in the Daytona turns that would keep cars on the race track, while enabling them to race around at outlandish speeds.
Big Bill also knew the design would benefit the fans. The banking would enable people in the grandstand to better see the action, in contrast to the flat Indy layout that allowed very limited sight lines for the ticket-buying public.
Doubtless, he was also influenced by his youthful experiences at Laurel Speedway, where the wooden-plank racing surface was banked at 48 degrees.
Construction of the massive race track utilized an engineering approach derived from railroad expansion during the 19th century. Early railroads, with low speeds and wide-radius curves, didn’t require easements. As railway speeds increased, it created a need for turns with gradual increases in curvatures, which was solved in a new approach called transition spirals.
The new race surface at Daytona demanded the use of this new approach. No one had ever tried to build a track so highly-banked, so Big Bill enlisted the help of a man named Charles Moneypenny, the city engineer of Daytona Beach.
Moneypenny in turn got some valuable assistance from the Ford Motor Company’s engineers, who had built Ford’s test track in Detroit. The key input Moneypenny sought was with the transitions required to connect the steep turns to the straightaways.
The Ford test track wasn’t banked anywhere near what Daytona would be, but it was able to yield meaningful data regarding the transitions.
Moneypenny combined that knowledge with what he learned from the engineering required to build railroads, and found a way to deliver for Big Bill. And so, Daytona International Speedway opened in 1959, starting off in a huge fashion – with the very first Daytona 500.
To learn more about Bill France Sr. and other pieces of Daytona International Speedway history, book a VIP Tour for an intimate, exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the “World Center of Racing" from the ISC Archives and Research Center.
Admission to the VIP Tour is $52 per person and advanced reservations are encouraged as availability is limited. Reservations can be made in person at the Daytona International Speedway Ticket Office or by calling 855-802-7223.