It’s been almost 50 years now since major races first began at the Daytona International Speedway. Brought into the world racing stage in February of 1962, Daytona has a lot to show for its humble beginnings, including decades of racing history and a world-wide reputation as being one the premium tracks in North America. As we found out from Hooniverse, the 50-year milestone anniversary will be celebrated at the Rolex 24 at Daytona at the end of this month, leaving us to look back at the race that started it all- the Daytona Continental.

A.J. Foyt and his Pontiac Tempest that only saw the first lap of the Daytona Continental race Images: Hooniverse

After building Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR president William France Sr. wanted his track to see the limelight of world class races. So, with the track just 3 years old, France demanded that Daytona be the starting track for the 1962 World Sportscar Championship. The series obliged, and as they say, the rest is history.

The February 1962 race brought notable race car drivers turned legends to the track, like A.J. Foyt, Fireball Roberts, David Hobbs, Stirling Moss, Phil Hill, Jim Hall and Dan Gurney. The competition was fierce as drivers battled each other behind the wheels of Corvettes, Ferrari 250s and Dinos, Lotuse Elites and Climaxes, and Porsche 718s on the 3.81-mile course.

With just three hours to race, the goal was to cross the finish line just after the 3-hour mark but still before the other competitors since any racer who crossed the finish line prior to the allotted time would have to finish his final lap no matter how big of a lead he had.

NASCAR Great, Fireball Roberts and his Ferrari 250 GT that placed 12th at the first Daytona Continental race

Though notable for being Daytona’s major racing start, the first round of the 1962 World Sportscar Championship was also known for the race’s finish.

As the clocked clicked within minutes of the finish of the 3-hour race, Dan Gurney had a full lap lead on second place.

Unfortunately, that’s when Gurney felt his engine giving out. With some quick thinking and the knowledge of his lead, Gurney stopped within feet of the finish line for the remaining 1 minute and 40 seconds of the race, knowing his engine wouldn’t last another lap.

When the 3-hour flag was dropped, Gurney hit his electric start button and inched across the finish line, beating second-place finisher Phil Hill by 46 seconds.

It’s been a great 50 years of automotive racing at Daytona and we look forward to another 50 years to come. Check out the video above, compliments of Hooniverse,  for a unique look at the race and racers that kicked off Daytona’s amazing sportscar racing history five decades ago.