Legends Talk About the New Daytona - Part 1

Buddy Baker and Donnie Allison

Buddy Baker (#28) and Donnie Allison led the field to the green flag in the 1979 Daytona 500. (Photo: ISC Archives)


Eddie Roche, ISC Head Archivist, spoke with several prominent motorsports figures about their thoughts on the new Daytona International Speedway after the completion of its recent repaving.

DAVID PEARSON — “I did my best at Daytona in the July race. I always ran better than in February there. But the track would get slick on you in July. It was a little rough, even when I drove, in turns four and one. You had to straddle the rough spots or run above them. But Daytona was good to me. With the new pavement, the track will be faster, especially off the corners. You’ll be able to run wide-open. It will be a nice, smooth racetrack, but have the same groove. The cars will stick a lot better.”

PETE HAMILTON — “Daytona will be really fast and tighter, and the cars will drive better with less effort from the driver, particularly the first year. Prior to Talladega, Daytona was the biggest and fastest track we had. Daytona became a handling racetrack, more so in July than in February. The track was hot and slick in July when the race was run during the day. It will be the same groove — qualify as low down as possible, with the left front only about one inch off the bottom line. It used to be a ‘slide for life’ through the corners back when I drove. The effect was the yaw angle, even with the winged cars. It’s not that the winged cars didn’t slide; it’s that they slid less.”

MARVIN PANCH — “What I like is that they are completely redoing the track, right down to the base. The outcome is that it will be really smooth. They are going all out. There was a hump coming out of four, which I really liked because you could get the car set, but I guess that will be gone. The new surface will be smoother and faster. They are also widening pit road, which is a neat deal. With today’s paving technology, the track will be even better than it was when it was originally built. It was nice in 1959, don’t get me wrong, it’s just making a good thing better.”

DONNIE ALLISON — “The repaving of Daytona will change the complexion of the track for a while. A lot of guys will stay in one lane, then it will become more multi-line. But you’ll be able to run where you want. I think the track will be better than when it was brand new in ’59. I first ran on it in 1960. It was a handling track back then. It will be easier for all drivers now.”

BUDDY BAKER — “I’d say me having the record for running the fastest Daytona 500 will be a thing of the past. The cars today have so much greater downforce, and better tires. If the guys run like they did last weekend at Talladega, certainly my record will go away. But that doesn’t make me sad; after all, records are made to be broken. Back in 1980, we had five cautions and the whole bit. My goal was to win the Daytona 500, not set any records. Once I had won at my hometown Charlotte, Daytona was next in my sights. Charlotte wasn’t even close to the feeling after winning Daytona once it finally set in that I had won the biggest race we had. That feeling exceeded having the fastest record. The grip level at the track will improve. We’ll probably see them running three and four wide right away. If there’s a two-car hook-up, they could really breakaway.”  See Also: Baker Looks for Record to be Broken

WADDELL WILSON — “For the original Daytona surface, we had to set the car up for how the driver wanted it, meaning where he wanted it to work best. It was a handling track. Now, with it being smooth, and no bumps, you’ll see better racing, a lot closer, and a lot faster. Racing will still be in a pack, though. With the way NASCAR does templates, dynos, wind tunnels, and rules, things are just so equal. I built the motor and set up the Ranier car Buddy Baker took to the 1980 Daytona 500 win, still the fastest on record. We didn’t, either one of us, know we had a record coming. We were just out to win the race. Hey, if that record gets broken . . . if they earn it, they earn it. Records were made to be broken. We broke one when we set ours, it’s just that ours lasted so long. I’ve been proud of that record every year for the last 30 years. I go way back to working with Fireball Roberts, Cale [Yarborough], Pearson, and Bobby Allison. I’ve seen a bunch, and this coming year should be interesting.”

A.J. FOYT — “Whenever you repave a track, it’s gonna be faster and smoother. The newer technology in resurfacing makes a difference. At Daytona, the drop-off in turn two and the bump in four will be gone, I’m sure. But you’re still going to have [restrictor] plate racing, bringing 10-15 cars up front now that shouldn’t be there. Three, four, or five of those will pull away at first. I don’t like plate racing myself. Even in Indy car racing, I prefer ungoverned. But we’ll be out to see groups of cars coming off turn four at Daytona real tight, and working the bottom. That’s where you can eat up the competition. I’m glad I raced when I did. It sure was fun. But when it came to traffic on the track, well, it’s a good thing they didn’t used to broadcast back then what a driver was saying over his pit radio, or I would have been run out of town!”

BOBBY ALLISON — “The Daytona racetrack will really, really be an improvement. When they made it new the last time [1978 repave], it was an improvement. Originally, when it was brand new [in 1959], we had nothing to compare it to. Then after the first repave, we could really appreciate how much better it was. It was evident that they had learned more with time and modern materials, which got better with time. Daytona was where drafting was discovered in its first year of operation. Now, what’s being brought into play is improved driveability; being able to stick better with this new pavement. I think you’ll still see a solid draft line of cars. The beauty of it is you’ll be able to work with a single set-up.”

JACK INGRAM — “When you pave a racetrack the proper way, the way ISC does, it doesn’t wear tires as bad. I won the Sportsman race at Daytona in 1980, and the track had just been repaved in 1978, and it made a huge difference. The cars won’t bounce around as much now because of the increased grip, even with the wind. They’ll move around from the turbulence, sure, but it’ll be safer. The cars didn’t have as much spoiler back when I ran. I don’t believe the cars will stay in a solid pack, they never do at Daytona. Handling will enter in, and separate them.”

HURLEY HAYWOOD — “I was one of the first Grand-Am drivers to test on the new surface at Daytona, and it’s great — fabulous! There’s tons of grip. It really exceeded my expectations. There’s no more bump on [turns] one or two. It’s all completely smooth. The banking is totally a non-event. Again, a lot of grip, and a lot of speed. The result will be faster lap times for everyone.”  See Also: Grand-Am and ARCA Teams Test at Daytona

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