Since its founding in 1909, Miami Speedway has always been associated with some of the greatest drivers in history. The track itself has changed very little since its early years, however, it has grown and shrunk in size several times. In this article, we will take a look at the various incarnations of Miami Speedway and its current status as one of the premier motorsport venues in the world.
The Birth Of Miami Speedway
In August of 1909, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) held an event that would become famous throughout the world. The Vanderbilt Cup, as the event was known at the time, had been discontinued after more than a decade of inactivity and was revived in an effort to make a comeback. The inaugural running of the Vanderbilt Cup was held at a brand-new speedway in Miami and drew a huge crowd, as the main event of the day was televised live across the country. The following drivers are credited with the building of Miami Speedway: Benham Brothers, Billy Revill, Bert Hester, and George Wilkerson.
The Early Years
Following the success of its first edition, the NYRA decided to hold a second Vanderbilt Cup at the same venue in 1914. This time, the track was 4.7 miles in length with a main straightaway that was 1.5 miles long. The track was designed with the assistance of an Englishman named Tom Jordan and was considered to be the greatest track yet built in the United States. The track’s configuration is still very similar to what it was at the time of its initial construction, however, it has been widened and lengthened several times since then. The total track length has increased from 4.7 to 7.3 miles and the main straightaway has been extended several times (most notably in 1967 and 1977).
Before the 1923 season, the Vanderbilt Cup was held again at Miami Speedway and this time around it was decided that the race would be renamed the American Grand Prize Cup. The following drivers are credited with the invention of the American Grand Prize Cup: Fred Frame, Louis Frett, and Jack Taylor.
World War II, And Then Again Without Race Cars
During World War II, auto racing was placed on hold as more and more men were drafted into military service. However, after the war, an entirely new generation of racing drivers had risen to prominence and they wanted to test their mettle on the track. In 1947, the Indianapolis 500 was held for the first time since 1942 and four of the top five finishers were driving cars that had been designed and built during the war. One of those drivers was Louis Fentress, who drove a specially designed racer that he named the “Blitzen”. The 1948 Indianapolis 500 was the largest crowd ever to attend that event, as there were over 300 cars in the race and they had all been assembled during the war. The following is a partial list of the cars that were built during World War II that are still in existence: Alva Brakes, Buick Special, Cadillac Fleetwood, Cord Chevrolet, Farmer Chevy, Fury, Hillman Hunter, Holman Vintage, and Maserati.
While World War II had a big impact on Miami Speedway, it did not stop the track from hosting some form of motorsport event. In fact, the track saw more active participation in the 1950s than it had in the previous decade. The following drivers are credited with putting on one of the most iconic events in the history of Miami Speedway: Cliff Bergere, Bob Sweikert, Chuck Yeager, Harry Scheff, Herb Thomas, and Lloyd Ruby.
The Post-War Era
After several decades of sporadic events at Miami Speedway, it finally became apparent that the track needed to be renovated in order to keep up with the times. In 1964, the track was completely redesigned and it was opened to the public for the first time since it had closed for World War II. That same year saw one of the greatest rivalries in auto racing history as Nelson Rockefeller and his Rockefeller team competed against an all-star team of drivers, led by Lee Iassis, in a race that would decide the best car for the following year. The following drivers are credited with the building of the modern-day Miami Speedway: Al Alcorn, Bill Holland, and Bill Smith.
Changes In The Making
In June of 1967, a mere three months after the track had reopened, the great controversy of the 1960s began. After initially stating that he would not have a driver on his team who had participated in the previous season’s Indianapolis 500, racing promoter Bill France (who had also been the organizer of that year’s event) reversed his decision and signed sixteen-year-old Richard Petty to drive for his team, the Bill France Racing Organization. The following is a partial list of the drivers who left an indelible mark on Miami Speedway: Al Unser, Jackie Robinson, Lee Roy Cauley, and Richard Petty.
Richard Petty’s emergence as a premier driver in the sport had a domino effect, as he soon attracted the attention of other racing organizations and he ended up signing a contract with the Junior Johnson team, which had an affiliation with the Ford Motor Company. Despite the upheavals caused by the great change in drivers, the track still managed to hold an event in 1968 and it was a fitting tribute to Nelson Rockefeller’s legacy that the race was named the “Nelson Rockefeller Memorial Trophy”.
The Late Sixties, Seventies, And Early Eighties
The period of Richard Petty’s contract with the Ford Motor Company was one of the most fruitful in the history of Miami Speedway. Between 1968 and 1980, the track saw more active participation than it had seen in the previous three decades combined. Some of the greatest drivers of all time competed at Miami Speedway, including A. J. Foyt, Darrell Waltrip, and Mario Andretti. The following is a partial list of the drivers who participated in some of the most iconic races in the history of Miami Speedway: Al Unser, Richard Petty, and Dan Gurney.
With so much activity on the track, it would not be surprising if something were to happen. On July 30, 1969, just two months after Richard Petty’s rookie season, tragedy struck when track announcer Sid Collins was killed when an engine exploded while he was broadcasting the race. Collins had been at the microphone for over forty-five minutes before the accident occurred and it is widely believed that he was the victim of one of the most horrific coincidences in the history of sports. The following is a partial list of the drivers who passed away while at the wheel of a race car: David Pearson, Jerry Hoyt, and Richard Petty.
A New Generation Of Cars And Engines
The early eighties were arguably the greatest decade in the history of Miami Speedway. The track saw an explosion of new drivers enter the sport in the early part of the decade and many of them became household names, including Emerson Fittipaldi, Alain Prost, and Hélio Castroneves. The following drivers are credited with starting the great revival of the sport in the area: Nelson Philippe, Alex Zanardi, and Robby Gordon.
The revival was due in large part to a new generation of cars. In fact, the decade saw some of the greatest advancements in automotive engineering in history. The cars of the early eighties were much more sophisticated than those of the previous decade and they allowed for faster speeds. The following is a partial list of the cars and engines that were revolutionary in their day: AJS Formula, Arrows, Renault, and Cosworth.
The Upcoming Century
While the last several decades have been dominated by auto racing in Florida, the decade of the twenty-first century will undoubtedly see the resurgence of motorcycle racing, as more and more people are rediscovering the thrills that a spirited ride on a motorbike can bring. In 2013 and 2014, the AMA Superbike World Championship will be held at the 7.9 mile road course – the longest in the world and the longest track that the series has ever visited. The following is a partial list of the bikes and the riders who will be competing there: Jeff Hannah, Tommy Misuraca, Josh Grant, Jake Johnson, and Alex Lowes.
The Track Is Still Changing
While the great advancements in technology and safety that occurred in the twentieth century had a positive impact on motor racing, it did not spare the track from suffering some serious damage. In fact, the greater Miami area has been subjected to several horrendous weather events in the last few years, causing several significant changes to the track. In 2013, heavy rains caused severe flooding throughout the greater Miami area and the track was shut down for several months. When it reopened, it had to be completely resurfaced and it now takes about twelve hours to complete one lap, due to all of the new surfaces that have had to be laid down.