Daytona International Speedway

Daytona Beach, Florida | C.1958

Photo Credit: Allie Marsh

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Daytona Beach, Florida was the first place to attract and accommodate motorsport aficionados, thanks to its wide spans of open, compact sand—considered ideal for speed. In 1936, the first stock car race was held on the Daytona Beach Road Course. Decades on, NASCAR founder William “Bill” France Sr., recognized the limits of the locale, given forthcoming land developments and a surge of enthusiasm for the sport. His initiative and drive led to the creation of the “World Center of Racing,” the Daytona International Speedway.

The 2.5-mile tri-oval was designed at a degree that enabled higher speeds and gave fans optimal views (today, more than 100,000 spectators can find their place among these multicolored seats). Engines started in 1959 for the inaugural Daytona 500, NASCAR’s most prestigious event. The finish was extremely close: Johnny Beauchamp went home victorious…three days later, a newsreel clip identified Lee Petty as having crossed the finish line first. If Daytona was going to be the world capital for competitive speed, it was going to need a precise timer.

In 1962, the Speedway began using Rolex for its official timepiece. The company marked the occasion by introducing their first chronograph (a combined stopwatch and display wristwatch). They called it “Daytona,” as it was designed for race car drivers. Within years, legendary actor Paul Newman would fall into that lane.

Cast as a racer in the 1969 film Winning, Newman’s training ignited a genuine passion for the motorsport. He went on to participate in competitive racing and remained devoted for the rest of his life. When his racing career truly accelerated, his wife and costar, Joanne Woodward, gifted him the rarest, most exclusive Cosmograph Daytona watch, fitted with an “exotic” dial. She engraved it with a cautionary message: “Drive Carefully, Me.”

That year he was photographed often, with the watch featuring prominently. He wore it daily, especially on the track. Newman was not an official sponsor, but he was a Rolex enthusiast. And conveniently, the world was enthusiastic about the blue-eyed Hollywood icon. It became common to identify the watch as a Paul Newman Daytona.

Production of “his” model ceased in the early ‘70s, but a half century after he slipped one over his wrist, with only 8 still in existence, it is one of the most sought-after sports watches of all time. (His original sold at auction for a cool $17.8 Million.) Woodward bought Newman a later version of the Daytona, bearing a revised inscription for the then-avid speed racer. This one read: “Drive Slowly, Joanne.”

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