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Ford had a hand in Daytona Speedway design

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Banked Ford Dearborn test track in 1953
Ford Motor Company has had its share of on-track success at Daytona International Speedway, but its biggest contribution may have taken place before the facility was even built.

That’s because Ford engineers assisted Bill France, Sr., and his team of Daytona Beach city commissioner Dan Warren and engineer Charlie Moneypenny, in solving their main problem of transitioning from the daunting high banks in the corners to the otherwise flat straightaway of the proposed 2.5-mile superspeedway.

As the countdown continues toward the running of the 50th Daytona 500 on Sunday, Ford Racing presents this recent interview with Warren, who recalls how Ford Motor Company played a key role in the construction of Daytona International Speedway.

Warren, who is 82 years old and retired from the law profession, still resides in Daytona Beach. Read More

Aerial view of Ford's test track in 1953
Comments from Dan Warren, former city commissioner of Daytona Beach:

CAN YOU RECALL HOW YOUR GROUP GOT TOGETHER WITH FORD MOTOR COMPANY?  “What happened was we flew up to Detroit in 1953 and met with Spike Briggs, who owned the Detroit Tigers at that time.  He was involved with the auto industry up there and supplied bodies to a number of manufacturers, in addition to owning the Tigers.  We told he that we were toying with some designs for the track and he said that maybe we could just go to the Ford test track and their engineers could help with whatever design problems we were encountering, so he got us a meeting with the Ford engineers at the Ford Motor Proving Grounds.

“The problem of not being able to do an oval like Indianapolis was due to the limitations of land and the east-west runway of the Daytona Beach Airport.  An oval interfered with the runway and radar pattern.  Moneypenny looked at shortening two turns in one and two and three and four and then started talking about a tri-oval.  The Ford grounds kind of twisted and turned back then and there was one section that had a tri-oval, so the combination of that fact and the size of the property dictated that we build a tri-oval.

“The problem with the track is that Bill wanted to get high enough banks to have an optimum speed of 100 miles an hour, so you could drive all the way around the track and use the banking to hold the car.  But when the track transitioned from 31 degrees to 18 degrees in the tri-oval, we were afraid of having some grade problems.  The Ford engineers worked out the data that would allow a bump-free transition for any degree of banking, so we went up there and Charlie told them what problems we faced and they got it all worked out.

“Charlie stayed for two more days and the end result was an extremely smooth transition with the way the track was designed.  Going to Ford ended up adding to the stability of the track and let drivers achieve the speed Bill wanted them to because he wanted to be able to beat the Indianapolis closed-course record.  That’s why he wanted a high-banked track.  He wanted to be able to go 100 miles an hour, but he didn’t quite achieve that.  I think they started at about 94 miles an hour, but he was happy with how it all turned out.

“The Ford engineers were very, very helpful and gave generously of their time to Charlie Moneypenny to help design the track.

“In 1953, you have to realize that Daytona Beach was a very small community and racing was the lifeblood of the community.  Bill was using the beach course and the highway to race and he came to the realization quickly that he couldn’t continue to do that.

“In 1952 I was fresh out of law school and was named city commissioner when I got introduced to Bill and the project started.  There was no money, but Bill had a lot of contacts.  We went on a trip to Boston, Detroit and Chicago to meet a bunch of those people.  We stopped in Boston and met with the owner of the Boston Braves and Bill had met Spike Briggs in 1950, so we were just reaching out trying to find anybody with some money to build the track or help build the track.  We were trying every avenue or angle we could.  Bill knew that concessions would be an important part of any new facility, so he talked with a lot of people who owned professional teams.  We got to Detroit and had dinner with Spike Briggs and that’s when he said, ‘I can get you into the Ford Motor Proving Grounds,’ and he got us in. 

“I don’t know if at that time the test track was as extensive as it later came to be, but we went out there on the track and took a turn around and talked with the Ford engineers about what we wanted to do with the track.  Charlie stayed around a couple of more days while Bill and I went to Chicago for some more meetings and worked things out.”

WHAT FEELING DO YOU HAVE KNOWING YOU PLAYED A ROLE IN BUILDING THIS SPEEDWAY AS IT APPROACHES THE 50TH DAYTONA 500?  “It’s more a sense of being a small part in a tremendously successful enterprise.  For the part I played, I’m happy it succeeded.  I’m honored to say I was a friend of Bill, Sr. and remained close with him until he died.”

WHERE WILL YOU WATCH THIS YEAR’S RACE?  “I’ve had the same seats on the finish line since the track was built.  I’ve got six seats, but my boys will go out there this year.  I saw every Daytona 500 until about 10 years ago, but now that they’re into it they go every year.  I’ll stay home and watch it on television.”

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