Lee Petty’s Daytona 500 Artifacts
by Tom Jensen April 21, 2023
The Patriarch of the Petty family won the first Daytona 500 in 1959, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame has some remarkable artifacts from his victory.
One of the most memorable races in NASCAR history was the inaugural Daytona 500, a race that was not declared official until three days after the checkered flag flew.
The 1959 Daytona 500 ended with the Oldsmobile of Lee Petty (NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2011) crossing the Daytona International Speedway start-finish line in a virtual dead heat with the Holman-Moody Racing Ford Thunderbird of Johnny Beauchamp and the lapped Chevrolet of Joe Weatherly (Class of 2015). Petty and Beauchamp both pulled into Victory Lane in the Daytona infield, where Beauchamp was initially declared the provisional winner.
After the finish, NASCAR founder and Chairman William H.G. France (Class of 2010) put out a call to photographers, looking for start-finish line images that would definitively prove who won the race. T. Taylor Warren, a NASCAR photographer and the winner of the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s 2023 Squier-Hall Award for Media Excellence, provided France with the image that proved the rightful winner was Petty, not Beauchamp, as originally thought.
T. Taylor Warren provided France with the image that proved the rightful winner was Petty.
— Tom Jensen
The NASCAR Hall of Fame is home to several historically significant artifacts from the first Daytona 500 in 1959. Among them are:
The trophy Harley J. Earl Trophy Petty was given for winning the Daytona 500;
The uniform and helmet Petty wore during the race; and
Warren’s original photograph showing that Petty finished ahead of Beauchamp.
Collectively, these three artifacts help tell the story of the first Daytona 500 and the Hall of Famer who won the race and built one of the sport’s most successful race teams. These are just three of the many Petty family artifacts and cars we are proud to display in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
The 1959 Daytona 500 paid a total purse of $53,050, of which $19,050 went to Petty and $7,650 to runner-up Beauchamp. This made it the richest race of 1959, edging out the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, which paid a total purse of $51,990, including $17,250 to race-winner Jim Reed.
As for Petty, 1959 proved to be a historic year. The patriarch of the Petty family set a career-high in ’59, winning 11 races. In the process, he became the first three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and set a personal best for prize money, winning $82,778.
Petty competed in 42 of 44 races on the Cup Series schedule in 1959. He was the only driver to enter more than 40 races that year, and one of only four to compete in more than 30 events.