The world-famous Daytona International Speedway hosted the inaugural running of the Classic 24 Hour race: the showcasing of some of the world’s greatest endurance race cars from the last 50 years at a track that is steeped into endurance racing. This was the place where the Porsche factory team had a fabulous 1-2-3 victory at the 1968 Daytona Classic 24 Hours. Vic Elford, Rolf Stommelen, Jochen Neerpasch and Hans Herrmann finished 1st in the factory Porsche 907.
The Daytona International Speedway was built in 1958 to host the races that were previously held at the Daytona Beach Road Course. The banked design of the race track permitted higher speeds and gave the spectators a better view of the track and cars. One of the remarkable things about the design of the track is that about 90% of the track, including the road part section, is visible from any of the available seats. First practice runs on the track begun February 1959, with the inaugural Daytona 500 taking place February 22, 1959. The finish of this first race was as startling as the track itself: the race ended in a photo-finish which took 3 days to judge who the winner was.
The Classic 24hour race was open to any Daytona sports car raced from 1961 to 2010. The participants were divided in 6 period correct race-groups competing the complete 24hours on a rotating schedule making sure the teams had to conquer each other during both day and night sessions.
Despite the inaugural character of the event, come from about 20 nationalities entered and there was no lack of great names among the competitors. Without any doubt, the most outstanding was Arturio Merzario, the Italian racing cowboy. Arturio Merzario had not visited the Daytona race-track for over 40 years.
Brian Johnson, the lead singer of the hard-rock band AC/DC and a passionate vintage car racer made the trip all the way from Australia. Gijs van Lennep crossed the Atlantic from the Netherlands to take the wheel of a Porsche 911RSR from the Belgian team 911Motorsport. More 911s were brought on the track by Jochen Mass, Daytona 24 Hours winner Hurley Haywood, and Patrick Long, the Porsche factory race-driver. Jurgen Barth joined the party at the wheel of the Porsche 907 of the Willy Kauhsen racing team.
And no complaints about the quality of the cars in the 6 groups either: Lola T70, Ferrari 512BBLM, Corvette’s, Ford GT40 and for us aficionados the Porsche 956, Porsche 962, Porsche RSR’s, Porsche 935. However, it was the 1967 Porsche 911S with number 54 that took my attention, as this was the very car that ran to a GT class victory at the 1967 24 hours of Daytona, back then driven by Jack Ryan and Bill Benker from Brumos. Probably it was even more special that one of the Brumos founders, Hurley Haywood, now took the wheel of this remarkable car.