International Speedway Corporation History
Daytona Beach, Florida 32120-2801
Telephone: (904) 254-2700
Fax: (904) 254-6712
Sales: $96 million (1996)
Stock Exchanges: NASDAQ
SICs: 7948 Racing Including Track Operations
"International Speedway Corporation strives to be the recognized leader in motor-sports entertainment by providing and improving distinctive environments for customers, participants and employees. The Company is committed to the wise growth and expansion of its operations in order to provide a significant level of growth and profitability for its shareholders, while remaining a good corporate citizen."
International Speedway Corporation is one of the largest and most prestigious promoters of car and motorcycle racing in the United States. Three of the company's properties are the premiere speedways of America, including Daytona International Speedway, location of the Daytona 500, the most popular stock car race in the world; Darlington Raceway, located in South Carolina, site of the first stock car superspeedway; and Talladega Superspeedway, situated in Alabama and widely regarded as the most competitive of all the stock car tracks in the United States. Other company operations include the Tucson Raceway in Arizona and the Watkins Glen International Road Course in New York, where management controls a 50 percent interest. Although International Speedway Corporation is best known for its management of Daytona, Darlington, and Talladega raceways, the company also promotes a number of annual racing events across the United States, such as the Winston Cup Races and the Busch Grand National Races, the most high-profile sports car endurance race in the country. Attracted to the growth of motor racing as a major spectator sport, blue-chip companies like Pepsi, Anheuser-Busch, Sears, Gatorade, Ford, Chevrolet, and Goodyear Tire have expanded their participation in and sponsorship of races promoted by International Speedway Corporation.
The history of racing and the legendary names of automotive competition in the Daytona Beach area of the state of Florida can be traced back to 1903. Legend has it that racing on the beach started when two gentlemen entered into a friendly wager as to which one of them had the most reliable and fastest "horseless carriage." That one wager, and resulting race, gave rise to what soon became known as the "Birthplace of Speed." Within a very short time, the wagers between gentlemen stopped but the competition to settle who had the fastest automobile continued. As word of the competition grew, and more people began to visit Daytona Beach just to view the automotive races, even the nascent film industry took an interest. The 1905 silent movie, "Automobile Races at Ormond, Florida," provided the first glimmerings of an allure that would attract people for years to come. Suddenly, throngs of people came to watch the speed trials for the ever-improving motorized road vehicles. One of the most famous of all the speed trials during these early years involved Ransom E. Olds, the creator of what was later known as the "Oldsmobile" and the first man to engage in a race on Daytona Beach in a timed run.
During the years leading up to World War I, Daytona Beach attracted competitors from around the world to test the speed of their automobiles. In fact, most of the land speed records set during the early part of the 20th century were accomplished by drivers at Daytona Beach. Although the advent of World War I and America's involvement in the European conflict slowed the development of Daytona Beach as the gathering place for land speed trials, nonetheless, the attraction to the Florida location experienced an immediate resurgence following the end of the war in November of 1918.
Through the 1920s, and even during the height of the Great Depression, Daytona Beach attracted drivers who competed in speed time trials. As the Daytona Beach races grew in reputation and prominence, drivers from as far away as Britain, France, Italy, Hungary, Germany, and Spain become regular competitors. Major H.O.D. Segrave of Great Britain was the first man to exceed 200 mph on the beach. Frank Lockhart from the United States died on the same stretch of beach while attempting to establish a new speed record. As the motor car developed in both power and speed, however, the organizers of the Daytona Beach speed trials soon recognized that racing cars were outgrowing the facilities available at the beach. As a result of these developments, it was decided that the speed trials should be relocated to the Bonneville Salt Flats in the state of Utah. The last (and one of the legendary) land speeds trials on Daytona Beach was held in March of 1935, when Sir Malcolm Campbell in his famous Bluebird V set the best speed ever recorded on the beach at 276 mph.
Having already firmly established an international reputation as the "Birthplace of Speed" in the automotive racing industry, the organizers of the original Daytona Beach speed trials began looking for something new to continue the area's famous legacy. They found it in stock car racing. Although not a brand new sport, the organizing committee initiated a decidedly innovative approach. Regularly scheduled stock car races would be held on a course that combined a portion of Daytona Beach with a portion of a public road. The original course of 3.2 miles incorporated a north turn immediately south of the center of the city of Daytona. Running approximately 1.5 miles on the beach and then turning 1.5 miles onto a paved public highway, the two sections of the course were connected by banked sand turns. The inaugural race on March 8, 1936 signaled the start of a new era in the history of racing at Daytona Beach. Most of the initial competitors were from the United States, but as the reputation of the race grew, drivers from around the world began to flock to the beach once again. Not satisfied with sitting on their laurels, the organizers decided to take the next step and on January 24, 1937 inaugurated the Daytona 200 motorcycle race, the first of its kind in racing history.
World War II and the Postwar Years
Because of the reconfiguration of most American industrial factories in the name of national defense, racing at Daytona Beach was suspended for the duration of World War II. Most of the organizers closely associated with the racing at Daytona Beach were either serving in the Armed Forces or working in various industrial capacities for the American war effort. When the war ended in the summer of 1945, the organizers banded together once again to restart the racing tradition at Daytona Beach.
One of the most important influences on the postwar era of racing at Daytona was a man named Bill France. France, a mechanic from a local shop in Daytona, had entered the first stock car race in March of 1935. Although he had finished fifth in the race, he developed a lifelong enthusiasm for the sport of racing. During the war, France worked as a welder and mechanic building submarine chasers at the Daytona Beach Boat Works. But when the war ended, he once again took his place among the competitors at Daytona Beach.
After the 1946 racing season had come to an end, France decided to retire from competitive racing and devote his energies to promoting stock car and motorcycle racing on the beach. A tireless and enthusiastic man, in 1947 France initiated the organizational meetings for what was to become NASCAR, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. NASCAR was established in 1948, and France and NASCAR became the driving force behind Daytona Beach racing.
One of the most important actions taken by France and NASCAR during the years after World War II was the promotion of a new design for the beach/road course in Daytona. The racing circuit was moved down to the south end of the beach, near Ponce Inlet, primarily because of the growth in Daytona. The newly designed course measured 2.2 miles for stock cars and 4.1 miles for motorcycles. Yet France soon realized that the continued and rapid growth in both Daytona's population and the racing crowds signaled the end of racing on the beach. Consequently, in April of 1953, France decided to form his own corporation, Bill France Racing, and begin planning the construction of a permanent speedway facility in Daytona.
By 1955, France's dream of a modern speedway facility in Daytona began to take shape when he entered into negotiations with the Daytona Beach Racing and Recreational Facilities Authority to construct and operate a $2.5 million motorsports arena. After private funding had been arranged for building the facility, the most up-to-date engineering and construction methods were used to follow the blueprint for a 2.5-mile tri-oval circuit that incorporated 31-degree banking in both its east and west turns.
In November of 1957, the Daytona Beach Racing and Recreational Facilities Authority signed an agreement with France and his Daytona International Speedway Corporation to lease the property indefinitely. One year later, the beach/road course was used the final time for auto racing.
With much fanfare and publicity, the Daytona International Speedway hosted its inaugural race on February 22, 1959. The first Daytona 500 fielded an array of 59 cars and posted a sweepstakes award totaling $67,760. More than 41,000 people were in attendance to watch the first race of the Daytona 500. As history would have it, they were not disappointed. The finish of the race was too close to call, yet Johnny Beauchamp was declared the "unofficial winner" and basked in the adulation of Victory Lane. Unfortunately for Beauchamp, the final results were determined three days later by a clip of newsreel that provided conclusive evidence that Lee Petty had won the close race in his Oldsmobile. The first of many close stock car races that enhanced the reputation of Daytona International Speedway, it was followed by another dramatic finish on July 4th when Fireball Roberts won the first Firecracker 250 stock car race in a modified Pontiac.
The Growth of Racing from the 1960s through the 1980s
During the next three decades, many new races were added to the schedule of Daytona International Speedway. The last motorcycle race on Daytona Beach was held in 1960; one year later it was moved to the Speedway, with Roger Reiman winning the first Daytona 200 on a Harley-Davidson. In 1962, Dan Gurney won the first Daytona Continental Sports Car Race in a Lotus Ford. Other races established during these years included the Pepsi 400; the Daytona Speedweeks, a 16-day preliminary set of races that initiates the major league racing season; the Rolex 24 at Daytona; the Exxon World SportsCar Championship and Supreme GT Series; the Busch Clash and Daytona ARCA 200; the ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Supercar Series; the Gatorade 125-Mile Qualifying Races for the NASCAR Winston Cup, which determines the entrants for the Daytona 500; the Discount Auto Parts 200; the Firebird International Race of Champions; and the Daytona 300 NASCAR Busch Race.
By the early 1980s, Daytona International Speedway had become so famous that the running of the 25th anniversary of the Daytona 500 was a major international sports event. Drivers from more than 20 countries competed for the honor of driving in Victory Lane, which was won by Cale Yarborough in his Super-Pontiac. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan was the Grand Marshal for the NASCAR Winston Cup Race, won by Richard Petty. During these years, corporate sponsorship of racing at Daytona increased dramatically. Racing became known as one of the few sports where commercialism was not only accepted but expected. As a result, major corporations such as Ford, Chevrolet, Gatorade, DuPont, Goodyear, Anheuser-Busch, STP, and Western Auto signed on to sponsor major races at Daytona Speedway, which had the effect of significantly offsetting costs associated with those races.
The 1990s and Beyond
Having changed its name from the Daytona International Speedway to International Speedway Corporation, the firm, which was first headed by Bill French and then by his son, began to expand its holdings in the early 1990s. Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, and Tucson Raceway in Arizona were purchased by International Speedway Corporation. In addition, management decided to acquire a 50 percent interest in Watkins Glen International Road Course in New York. The company also purchased a 12 percent interest in Penske Motorsports, Inc., the owner and operator of Michigan International Speedway and Nazareth Speedway in Pennsylvania. In 1996, the company initiated construction of a new, state-of-the-art California Speedway, located near Los Angeles.
During the 1990s, International Speedway Corporation expanded into areas other than speedway operation and management and racing promotion. American Service Corporation was formed by International Speedway Corporation to operate the food, beverage, and souvenir concession stands at the Daytona, Talladega, and Darlington speedways. Also responsible for providing catering services to corporate customers in suites at these facilities, in 1995 Americrown expanded its services to other unaffiliated sporting events, such as the LPGA championships. International Speedway Corporation added a radio station to its holdings, MRN Radio Network, to produce and syndicate races promoted by the company. Finally, in July of 1996, the company opened Daytona USA, a motorsports museum and theme park complex that includes such attractions as interactive media, racing exhibits, theaters, and a racing museum.
One of the fastest growing spectator sports in the United States is stock car racing, and International Speedway Corporation is at the forefront of its development and promotion. More than 70 stock car, sports car, truck, and motorcycle races are held annually at the company's properties, and nearly 80 percent of its income is derived from NASCAR sanctioned races at Daytona, Talladega, and Darlington. With increased revenues every year during the 1990s, International Speedway Corporation has a clear road ahead for ever-larger profits.
Principal Subsidiaries: Americrown Service Corporation; MRN Radio Network; Daytona USA; Daytona International Speedway, Inc.; Darlington Speedway, Inc.; Talladega Speedway, Inc.; Watkins Glen Speedway, Inc.; Tucson Raceway Park, Inc.; Daytona Properties, Inc.
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Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 19. St. James Press, 1998.