On Thursday, Daytona International Speedway turned back the clock 50 years.
On the 50th anniversary of the first and only time that USAC open-wheel championships cars competed at Daytona International Speedway, five-time Rolex 24 At Daytona champion Hurley Haywood paced eight restored Indy Roadsters around the storied 2.5-mile tri-oval for parade laps at speeds near 100 mph.
The special visit to “The World Center of Racing” is a prelude to this weekend’s Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance outside of Jacksonville .
In attendance, but not driving, was Jim Rathmann, the 1960 Indianapolis 500 winner and the driver that captured both open-wheel events at DIS back in April 1959.
Rathmann’s first victory was in a 100-mile race that was completed in just over 35 minutes with an average speed of 170.261 mph, which, at the time, was the fastest race ever run on a closed course. Later that day, he won a second race, this time only 50 miles, with an average speed of 160.694 mph.
He was watching the parade laps on Thursday from the Sprint FANDECK.
“I like to see the old cars,” Rathmann said. “We got some good speed out of them.”
Five of the eight cars that actually competed in the open-wheel races at DIS back in 1959, including Rathmann’s, were on track on Thursday while the other three competed in events during that time period.
“Many times all you get is part of a frame, a rear end maybe if you’re lucky and some other bits and pieces,” said Bob McConnell, an owner of one of the restored Indy Roadsters. “You start from there and then restore it from the pictures and as much original parts as you can get.”
After spending “many hours and years” restoring the car, driving the parade laps on Thursday made all the hard work worth it for McConnell.
“It’s one of these things that is almost a dream come true,” said McConnell, who calls Urbana , Ohio home. “Seeing these cars running at Daytona and to be able to run on the same banking with a champion here, it’s hard to describe.”
For Haywood, as he was driving his Porsche, he found himself looking more in his rear view mirror than what was in front of him.
“It was too cool to look out my rear view mirror and see all those Indy cars lined up,” Haywood said.
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