The History of Daytona Beach
Daytona Beach bills itself as “The World’s Most Famous Beach”. All of what we now know as Florida was acquired from Spain by the United States in 1821. The area where Daytona Beach is was inhabited by Timucuan Indians tribes before that time. These tribes lived in villages that were fortified. Because of war and disease introduced by Pone Deleon and his men the tribe vanished. Settlement of the area didn’t actually begin, though, until 1842 after the Second Seminole War was over.
It wasn’t until after our own civil war that Daytona became a tourist attraction. Daytona was founded in 1870. It was named after Matthias Day who was the founder. There were actually three towns that merged to become what we know now as Daytona Beach. The three towns were Daytona, Daytona Beach, and Seabreeze. In 1920 it began calling itself the world’s most famous beach and the name stuck.
The wide beach that was made up of hard packed sand was a natural attraction for automobile and motorcycle racers, of course. In the early 1900s, Daytona Beach was where the fledgling automobile manufacturers tested their products. The area became known as ‘The birthplace of speed”.
In 1936 on March 8th, the first stock car races were held on the Daytona Beach Road Course. The Daytona Beach Road Course was responsible for the formation of NASCAR.
In the early days, John D. Rockefeller and his rich playboy friends liked to hang out and race their shiny new horseless carriages. There is an exhibit on Daytona Beach that consists of granite blocks that are built into the boardwalk that detail the history of automobile racing up until 1959. The Daytona International Speedway opened in 1959.
Florida became the twenty-seventh state in 1845. That was after the second Seminole War and most of what is now Daytona Beach was virtually uninhabited. Florida was a ‘slave’ state and seceded from the United States in 1861. Because of its location so close to the Bahamas, the Confederates were able to bring in goods as well as weapons.
After the civil war was over, many Southerners were looking for new homes as far away from the conquering Northern states as possible and former slaves were promised free land in Florida so there was a huge influx of people. The Yankees saw Florida as a land of opportunity so they also came to Florida.
The railroad finally reached Florida in 1880 and provided a way for Northerners who were sick of the cold and snow with relatively easy access to the warm southern climate and the beautiful white sandy beaches. Those who could well afford it came and they came in droves.
One of these wealthy visitors was a man by the name of James Hathaway is given the credit for initiating the first automobile race on the beach and the rest, as they say, is history. Daytona Beach bills itself as The World’s Most Famous Beach and The Birthplace of Speed. It is both!
Daytona Beach Lifestyle
So many visitors come to Daytona Beach, Florida and live the Daytona Beach lifestyle for a few days and decide that they would love to live like that forever! What’s not to like? There are hard-packed white sand beaches where the sun shines and the breezes are ocean cooled. It seems the predominate colors everywhere you look are ocean blue and sea green.
There are restaurants that are just world class and offer such a variety of fares that you would never run out of a new taste to try. The locals are friendly and helpful. The words ‘Southern hospitality’ come to mind. The weather seems to be always delightful.
It truly is a tropical vacation paradise and people come every year to enjoy it. Many return year after year after year. Sometimes they will buy a home or a condo early-on so they can get it paid for before the time comes for them to retire. Others will opt to buy a yacht and keep it moored at Daytona Beach.
There are so many things to do, so many places to visit, so many attractions available that one would never run out of new adventures. It seems that almost every week there are major events scheduled. If it isn’t Bike Week, it is Spring Break. And, of course, the Daytona 500 comes up every single year! What an adventure and what an experience that is!
Within just an hour or so of driving time, one can visit the Space Coast of Florida and enjoy seeing things and having experiences that are not available anywhere else in the whole world. Disney World isn’t very far away either.
There is however a downside to relocating permanently to this tropical paradise. Overall the cost of living is generally lower than in most parts of the country. The problem is that wages are also lower. There is almost always a decrease in disposable income if a family relocates to the Daytona Beach area.
Of course, that isn’t to say that you should not relocate to the Daytona Beach area. There are more considerations than just the total of disposable income to consider. There is also that beautiful warm weather, the sandy beaches and the overall more relaxed lifestyle to consider.
Many people do make the decision to relocate from cold northern climes to the Daytona Beach area after they have visited during the winter months and found this tropical paradise. They are tired of the cold northern winters and the inevitable shoveling of snow.
Sometimes they tell you that they have never made a better decision in their lives and sometimes they say something much different. After they have spent a summer in Daytona Beach where the heat and humidity can become oppressive and have lived through one hurricane season, they think they have made a huge mistake.
The thing to do if you are thinking about relocating to the Daytona Beach area is to visit through all seasons of the year before you make your decision. It may be that Daytona Beach really is the tropical paradise where you want to live permanently.
Daytona Beach Attractions
If you are expecting white sandy beaches, sunshine and a slow and easy lifestyle when you visit Daytona Beach, you won’t be disappointed. If you are expecting a lot of excitement and a lot of speed you won’t be disappointed either. Daytona Beach vacations can be either or both. You can set your own pace and you can enjoy the beach as well as many other things while you are in Daytona Beach.
Here is a list of just a few of the things that you might be interested in seeing when you visit Daytona Beach:
Daytona Beach Boardwalk: This area is the very place to go for souvenirs and to see the ‘Salute to Speed’ exhibit. You can find video game arcades and go-cart rides. If you are really looking for a thrill you should try the Skycoaster and the Human Sling Shot rides! You can see the thirty granite plaques that are set into the boardwalk that commemorate the motorsports history of Daytona Beach.
Ocean Pier: Ocean Pier is near the boardwalk and stretches a fourth of a mile out into the Atlantic Ocean. Here you will find some of the world’s best fishing as well as dining. There is a gondola sky ride and a space needle. Both offer spectacular views of the beach and the ocean.
The Downtown Opry and the Ormond Beach Opry: This is live music and variety show that features Jazz, Gospel, Bluegrass, and Country Music. Different popular stars are featured each month.
Adventure Landing: Adventure Landing is a family type entertainment center and water park. Adventure Landing claims the largest game room, arcade and prize center. There is a quarter mile go-cart track that is two stories high. Additionally, there are three miniature golf courses. The water park features twelve different slides that range from ‘mild to wild’ and there is an interactive water fort that is a full three stories high.
Daytona USA: Daytona USA is the only interactive motorsports attraction in the world. It doesn’t matter how ‘into’ or not ‘into’ motorsports you are, you will have so much fun at Daytona USA. It is a high-energy experience that is designed to appeal to everyone from the most avid fan to those who don’t have a clue what the Daytona 500 is. Some of the activities that are offered are ‘You Call the Race’. Guests get to play at being the TV announcer ‘calling’ the race. There are also the STP’s Daytona Time Trials that allow visitors to use computer technology to design and test drive a stock car. Heroes of the Track offers an opportunity to speak to one of the NASCAR drivers using laser technology.
The Daytona Flea and Farmers Market: This attraction could take you all day or maybe two days. It consists of 40 acres and features more than a thousand covered booths. There is an air-conditioned antique mall that offers photos, jewelry, and memorabilia from the past.ly.
Bike Week in Daytona Beach
The first ‘Bike Week’ in Daytona Beach was held in 1937 and it has happened every year since. Maybe it is the hard white sand beaches or maybe is just the mild winter days that keeps leather-clad bikers (and biker babes) returning to Daytona Beach year after year after year. Whatever the reason, they come and they come in greater numbers every year.
The Daytona 200 is the premier event. The race was first won by Ed Kretz. Mr. Kretz was from California and he won with an eye-popping speed of 73.34 miles per hour on the 3.2-mile course. These races continued from 1937 through 1941. The race was often referred to as ‘The Handlebar Derby’ by the locals.
The race was discontinued between 1941 and 1947 because of the war in Europe and the rationing of tires and fuel. The American Motorcycling Association (AMA) said that it was “in the interests of national defense” that the event was canceled.
The famous motorcycle race resumed in 1947. It was promoted by the legendary Bill France. Newspaper stories of the period tell us that the city fathers asked townspeople to open their homes to the visiting motorcyclists because all hotel rooms and camping areas were filled to capacity. The 1947 Daytona 200 boasted a record 176 riders.
Daytona Beach fell out of love with the bikers and Bike week. The locals objected to the noise and the crowds. The races themselves were organized and orderly but the activities that surrounded the races were anything but organized and orderly. Law enforcement officers and officials were strained as were the relations with the bikers. Bike Week became known as the ‘Invasion’. Things got ugly. When things appeared to be at their worst (after the 1986 event), a special task force was organized by Daytona Beach in cooperation with the local chamber of commerce to improve relations, sooth ruffled feathers and to gain better control of the event.
Things did in fact change. One of the more important changes was that the event was extended from one week to a period of ten days. For events other than the races themselves, permits were required. The area in which the events were held was enlarged and as things were spread out there was a great deal less violence and many fewer deaths. One death is, of course, too many but fewer was a definite improvement. This year the crowds were estimated to have been between 300,000 and 500,000.
Bike Week (as it is still called even though it lasts ten days) is a very big deal for the local merchants. It contributes greatly to the local economy every year. Today there is much better control of the situation and Daytona Beach is again welcoming bikers and biker babes to their city with open arms.
Bike Week in Daytona Beach winds down just about the same time that Spring Break in Daytona Beach is getting started. The bikes roar out of town just as the bikini-clad college students arrive. Daytona Beach! You have to love it!
Auto Racing in Daytona Beach
Daytona Beach says of itself that is The World’s Most Beautiful Beach and that it is, The Birthplace of Speed. The two claims are intertwined. The wide hard-packed sand beaches made it an ideal place to test cars when the automobile industry was in its infancy and the beach is most certainly beautiful. There were no wide paved roads in existence and the sand on Daytona Beach was there, it was available and, maybe most important, it was free.
John D. Rockefeller and his wealthy friends loved gathering on the beach and racing their sporty new ‘horseless carriages’.
The first ever timed race was held on Daytona Beach in 1902…actually the race was held on nearby Ormond Beach. The race was unofficial and it was between Ransom Olds and Alexander Winston. Alexander Winston beat Ransom Olds by a mere .2 seconds.
The American Automobile Association held the first official race in 1903. The event was billed as ‘The Winter Carnival’. It lasted an entire week and the top speed in the race was a mind-blowing 68.198 miles per hour. This race also included a portion of Ormond Beach and was sponsored by the Ormond Hotel.
A portion of the course also included a portion of Daytona Beach. A clubhouse was built on the Daytona Beach portion and in 1905 and newspapers gave credit to Daytona Beach for hosting the event. There were at least thirteen (and maybe more) held between 1905 and 1935, and Daytona Beach quickly became synonymous with speed.
There were many attempts to set world land speed records. There were fifteen land speed records set at the site between 1905 and 1935. Drivers that set records at Daytona include Arthur MacDonald, Ralph DePalma, Henry Segrave, Ray Keech, and Sir Malcolm Campbell. Malcolm Campbell set the last record of 276.82 mph. After 1935 speed record attempts were made at the salt flats in Utah because the beach at Daytona was too narrow for such attempts to be made safely.
There are those who say that fast cars came into being thanks to prohibition and that most of the race car drivers of the early 1900s were in fact, bootleggers. ‘They’ say that the bootlegging profits is what financed their fast cars and that the fast cars were products of the need to drive fast to avoid being arrested.
NASCAR, as we know it today, was founded by a man by the name of William France, Sr. He moved to Daytona Beach because he had heard about the attempts to break world speed records and he was looking for a way to escape the Great Depression in 1935.
His idea was that people would pay to watch stock car races…and they did. The problem was the sport was fraught with problems and he saw the need for rules, regulations, and championships. Finally, in 1947 William France, Sr. began talking with others who were influential in stock car racing at the time and in 1948, NASCAR was born at the Ebony Bar at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach.