NASCAR's History in the Rolex 24
January 23, 2007 | 12:51 P.M. EST
For others, however, the best way to enjoy an “off-weekend” is to get little or no sleep, put on a firesuit and drive the twists and turns of the historic 3.56 mile road course at Daytona International Speedway literally morning, noon and night in America's most-prestigous endurance race.
The presence of many NASCAR stars in this weekend’s Rolex 24 Grand American race is the continuation of a long and storied tradition going back more than four decades. Drivers Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Juan Pablo Montoya, Bill Lester and AJ Allmendinger will carry on a legacy started by some of the great NASCAR names in the 1960s.
The Rolex 24 at Daytona, America’s longest sports car event, evolved from a three-hour, 311-mile competition first held in 1962. Beginning with that first event, there has been a NASCAR presence with stock car aces Fireball Roberts, Joe Weatherly, Paul Goldsmith, Marvin Panch and Dick Rathmann going toe-to-toe with the world’s foremost road racers. Rathmann finished sixth and Roberts came home 12th in a 50-car field.
The 1963 event again featured Roberts and Goldsmith, with NASCAR’s Johnny Allen finishing sixth. Cale Yarborough, G.C. Spencer and 1963 NASCAR Rookie of the Year Billy Wade teamed up in a Corvette for the 1964 race. One of the more unusual entries for a NASCAR driver was a Corvair driven by Bobby Allison in 1966.
The jovial NASCAR star, Tiny Lund, competed in 1973 as did second-generation NASCAR driver Richie Panch.
The 1976 race saw an impressive contingent of NASCAR stars driving NASCAR-type machines. David Pearson drove a full-size Wood Brothers Mercury with his son, two-time NASCAR Busch Series champion Larry Pearson. Richard Childress and James Hylton teamed up in one of Hylton’s Chevrolets, brothers Bobby and Donnie Allison took turns in a Chevrolet Nova and Buddy Baker shared a Dodge Dart with Joe Ruttman. NASCAR veteran Benny Parsons went the sports car route for the ’76 event, picking up a ride in a factory-backed BMW
NASCAR championship car owner Billy Hagan competed on many occasions through 1988 with his star driver, NASCAR champion Terry Labonte, joining him in 1983. Labonte teamed up with three-time NASCAR champion Darrell Waltrip to drive a Camaro in 1987. Waltrip’s first attempt at the 24 hour event came in 1983 at the wheel of an Aston-Martin prototype he shared with A.J. Foyt.
John Andretti, who now races in the NASCAR Busch Series, won the 1989 edition of the Rolex 24 at Daytona with co-drivers Derek Bell and Bob Wollek
One of the biggest events in the race’s history took place in 2001 when Dale Earnhardt and son Dale Earnhardt Jr. shared a Chevrolet Corvette.
Casey Mears became the first active NASCAR driver to visit victory lane with a win in 2006.