A Dodge Viper visits Florida's racing roots.
Florida is arguably the birthplace of speed in America. All right,
there had been earlier automobile competition in the United States, but
racing enthusiasts discovered the broad beaches here as the century began,
and word of the super-fast sand spread quickly. The steady procession of
international record seekers would last for decades -- until racing
Southern style took over at mid-century.
That legacy began in 1902, in
Ormond Beach, as a gentle breeze drifted in from the Halifax River and
murmured along 100 yards of cypress-planked veranda on the south side of
the grand Ormond Hotel. The wealthy winter guests watched with
anticipation as racing cars pulled into and out of the Ormond Garage, the
nation's first speed shop, just up Granada Avenue toward the ocean. It was
where dozens of world land speed record cars would be prepared. In fact,
cars for the first beach race were tuned there. Both of them. Ransom E.
Olds was the first to be timed on the beach. He bubbled enthusiastically
one evening in the hotel's library to his friend and fellow automobile
manufacturer, Alexander Winton: "You've no idea, Alex, what a thrill it is
out there. Do you know what it feels like to go fifty miles an hour?"
The next morning Olds and Winton breakfasted at dawn in the
gracious, columned dining room, exchanging pleasantries as they had on
other mornings. One hour later, they sat placidly in racing cars they had
fashioned. The Oldsmobile Pirate and the Winton Bullet were aimed south
toward Daytona Beach.
Olds straightened his necktie and snapped a
salute from the brim of his tweed cap. Winton returned the gesture, and
the two cars sped down the sand and disappeared. Later, they reappeared
side by side. The men shook hands and proclaimed an absolute tie. What
actually happened while they were out of sight, no one will ever know.
The declaration of a tie may have cast the mold for the romantic
figures who were to fly World War I fighter planes, but it assuredly was
the last time it ever happened in auto racing.
You don't have to
live in racing's past when you visit Florida, but it's a lot more fun if
you do. Along with it, there is plenty of auto racing's present and future
to see. And cruising Florida in a Dodge Viper is the definitive way to go
about it. No question.