Top-10 List: Dodges at Daytona
by Tom Jensen October 13, 2022
Take a walk down memory lane to view classic Dodge race cars at Daytona Beach from the 1930s to the 1960s.
Here at the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Curators’ Corner, we have a simple mission: educate and entertain race fans about the history and heritage of the sport they love.
We write about the most significant moments in NASCAR’s storied past, the sport’s greatest competitors and its unforgettable races. For today’s blog post, we’re going to focus on entertainment and some oddball brand-specific history with a top-10 list of classic Dodges that raced at Daytona Beach, from before World War II up until the summer of 1969.
Some were driven by Hall of Famers, others by people who aren’t exactly household names. But they all raced Dodges and they all raced them at Daytona Beach. We had fun pulling this list together, and we hope you enjoy reading about them.
10. Old School
The very first organized stock car race at the old Daytona Beach & Road Course took place on March 8, 1936, nearly a dozen years before NASCAR was incorporated. Milton Marion bested a field of 27 cars, only 10 of which finished, including one driven to a fifth-place finish by a recently relocated mechanic and eventual NASCAR founder and Hall of Famer named William H.G. France (2010). The lone Dodge on the 27-car field belonged to Bill Schindler of Middletown, N.Y., who qualified third and finished 18th.
9. Female Flyer
A daredevil through and through, Florida native Betty Skelton was known as “The First Lady of Firsts.” Skelton made her first solo flight as a pilot at age 12, became a stunt flyer and a three-time U.S. Female Aerobatics Champion. Turning to automobiles, she was the first woman to get a racing license from the Automobile Association of America. NASCAR founder William H.G. France invited Skelton to Daytona in 1954, where she set a world stock car speed record for women at 105.88 mph in a V-8 Dodge. Two years later, she upped that record at Daytona to 156.99 mph. She later became the first woman to reach 300 mph in a jet car on the Bonneville Salt Flats.
8. Home Cooking
When Long Island racer Bud Palmer came to Daytona to race on the beach in 1955, he did the smart thing and picked up a local sponsorship from the Pirate’s Den in nearby Port Orange. It must have been a happening night spot because it stayed open until 4 a.m. Palmer’s only two premier series starts were both on the Daytona Beach & Road Course, where he finished 21st in 1955 and 45th a year later.
7. Lone Ranger
Unless you are the hardest of hardcore race fans, you’ve probably never heard of Jim Whitman, and that’s OK. A native of Paramus, N.J., Whitman was 23 years old in 1960, when he competed in five NASCAR premier series races, all in Dodges owned by Dick Staley. Whitman finished 21st in his 1960 Daytona 500 qualifying race and then 47th out of 60 cars in the main event. He was the only driver to race a 1960 Dodge in the Daytona 500 that year, and after the season ended, neither he nor his car owner ever raced in the premier series again.
6. First Time
The first of 37 career victories for Hall of Famer Bobby Isaac (2016) came at the second 1964 Daytona 500 qualifying race. Driving a Dodge prepared by ace mechanic and car owner Ray Nichels, Isaac bested a 23-car field that included Hall of Famers Richard Petty (2010), Cale Yarborough (2012), Fred Lorenzen (2015) and Wendell Scott (2015), plus open-wheel stars A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones and Dan Gurney, along with Formula One driver Jo Schlesser.
Forty-seven cars lined up at Daytona International Speedway in February 1965 for a 250-mile NASCAR Modified-Sportsman Division race. Led by race-winner Marvin Panch, Fords captured seven of the top eight finishing positions, with Hall of Famers Cale Yarborough (2012), Red Farmer (2021) and Bobby Allison (2011) finishing sixth through eighth, respectively. There were six Studebakers in the field, but the only Dodge finished 17th with Jimmy Griggs behind the wheel.
4. Record Breaker
The huge hood scoop on LeeRoy Yarbrough’s Ray Fox-prepared 1965 Dodge hid a supercharger sitting atop its massive 426-cubic-inch Hemi engine. Although not legal for NASCAR competition, in February 1965, the car set a new closed-course record for stock cars, lapping Daytona International Speedway at 181.818 mph. Three years later, Cale Yarborough (2012) obliterated that mark by qualifying for the 1968 Daytona 500 at 189.222 mph in a Mercury owned and prepared by fellow Hall of Famers Glen (2012) and Leonard (2013) Wood.
3. Back-up Plan
Hall of Fame team owner Cotton Owens (2013) brought two cars to the 1966 Firecracker 400 at Daytona. Hall of Famer David Pearson (2011) lent his Owens-owned 1966 Dodge Charger to Mario Andretti, while Pearson drove a year-old Dodge Coronet. Both drivers struggled, as Pearson finished 15th, while Andretti completed only 78 laps before losing an engine and finishing 31st.
2. Doctor of Speed
If you want to talk about interesting lives, you must talk about Dr. Don Tarr. Raised in Africa, Tarr returned to the United States to study medicine. After setting up practice in Miami, Tarr started dabbling in auto racing and befriended Hall of Famer Bobby Allison (2011). Driving a two-year-old Dodge owned by Ray Fox, Tarr finished eighth in the 1969 Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway. In the same race a year later, Tarr finished a career-best sixth. In 48 starts over six seasons, the racing doctor posted nine top-10 finishes.
1. Yankee Clipper
Like many drivers, Massachusetts racer Pete Hamilton had a rocky rookie Daytona 500, finishing 44th in 1969 after getting tangled in a crash on Lap 44 in his A.J. King-owned Dodge. A year later, Hamilton moved to the powerhouse Petty Enterprises team, where he won the Daytona 500 as Richard Petty’s (2010) teammate in a winged Plymouth Superbird crew chiefed by Richard’s brother and fellow Hall of Famer Maurice Petty (2014).