Speedweek 2012 is under way at Daytona International Speedway with six racing events and is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of motor racing fans from around the nation along with millions of TV viewers. The racing spectacle known as the “Super Bowl of Motor Sports,” will culminate with the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012, the official start of the 2012 NASCAR season.
As the racing teams gather and the excitement builds, many of the drivers competing in this year’s events will also be taking a side trip to another local racetrack. Nestled not far away in the long-leaf pines and sand flats off State Road 44 near New Smyrna Beach is one of the most historic racing venues in Florida—one that all the racing greats know about, and still frequent.
For nearly 50 years, New Smyrna Speedway has been known as “the other” Daytona racing venue—its history is intertwined with the beginnings of NASCAR in the 1960s, only a few years after the original Daytona races were still being run on the sandy beaches.
Originally called Daytona Raceway, the ½-mile asphalt “New Smyrna Speedway” racing venue was carved from agricultural land holdings owned by Clyde Hart and his Hart Land and Cattle Co. in 1964. Clyde Hart opened the New Smyrna Speedway on April 23, 1967, as a ½ mile asphalt track, and as the nearby Daytona International Speedway and NASCAR continued to grow, the New Smyrna Speedway grew with it—after agreeing to change its name. NASCAR Hall-of-Famers Richard Petty, Darrel Waltrip, Bill Elliott, Dale Earnhardt and many others raced at New Smyrna Speedway, and also at Daytona International Speedway. The New Smyrna Speedway’s wall of fame is covered with photos of the most famous NASCAR drivers in history, many of whom continue to come to the speedway to test their cars before the Daytona races, or to see their kids and grandkids compete on the track as they cut their teeth on motor racing.
By 1979, an L.A Times newspaper motor racing columnist declared that “no other place on earth has such a devoted following of race drivers and fans than New Smyrna Speedway, “ and he called the venue “the ugly duckling of racing.” NASCAR great Richie Evans, inducted just last month into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, had a special love for the track and once declared, “If you can win at New Smyrna Speedway, you can win anywhere in the USA.”
New Smyrna Speedway offers a wide variety of racing categories including Super Late Model and NASCAR Tour-Type Modifieds, and is the site of one of the oldest continuous motor racing series in Florida—the Governor’s Cup, which celebrated its 46th running in November 2011 with Bright House Networks as presenting sponsor. Past Governor’s Cup winners have included racing icon Richard Petty, whose racing team still frequents New Smyrna Speedway for testing and time trials, as do many other NASCAR contenders.
Clyde Hart’s passion for auto racing was passed on to his son Robert, who now runs the track with the same determined spirit that celebrates racing’s past as he seeks to ensure its future.
“We didn’t realize we’d have this much fun when we first started the track,” Robert Hart said. “We have always wanted the track to be a family fun place to be—that’s why we allow children 11 and under for free.”
Racing was once held every weekend, all year long, but now the Florida Association of Stock Car racing season focuses on Saturday nights starting in March, and ending in mid-November.
“Our track is brightly lit, as a professional racetrack, and that’s why NASCAR drivers come over here and test on it,” Robert said.
Another special feature of the track is that it is one of the few venues in which spectators are invited to the track before the races begin to meet the drivers, standing beside their cars.
“We want to see the racing heritage continue on with the younger generation. A lot of times what galvanizes the kids as fans is when they can go down on the track before the race and touch the car and meet the driver,” he said.
A big crowd of loyal fans is expected to attend the “46th Annual World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing” events at New Smyrna Speedway starting Feb. 17 during Speedweeks, including the “27th annual Richie Evans Memorial NASCAR Tour-Type Modifieds 100” on Friday, Feb. 24, and the “Bright House Challenge Series Super Late Models 100” on Saturday, Feb. 25. Complete racing schedules are available at the track website at www.newsmyrnaspeedway.org
As a motor racing fan, do you have any special “short-track memories” from venues like New Smyrna Speedway?
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