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From Jacksonville Beach, FL

Friday, February 24, 2012

Jacksonville Beach, pioneer racetrack and runway (before Daytona)

                                   Auto racing, Pablo Beach, note pier in background

   Sunday, February 26, 2012, cars will race around the Daytona International Speedway track for the 54th annual Daytona 500, but according to Frederick Davis's History of Jacksonville, Florida, in 1906 it was believed that my hometown, Jacksonville Beach, would become the racing capitol of the world.  Jacksonville Beach was called Pablo Beach in those days and would be until 1925. 
     In a 1910 Florida East Coast Railroad publication for tourists, the beach at Pablo is described as "hard, white sand 300 to 800 feet wide." Now, it has shrunk to probably half that size.  It was considered an ideal speedway and, later as a runway for airplanes.  Its perfection was such that in 1922, Jimmy Doolittle chose it as the take off point for the first cross country flight made in less than 24 hours.  In 1912, Bob Fowler's first west-to-east flight across the United States ended on Pablo Beach.
     In 1903, a group of Jacksonville businessmen organized Florida's first automobile club, and  by 1906, automobiles were racing on the sands of the Jacksonville beaches, particularly Atlantic Beach, the northern most beach in the area.  
    During the 1906 races, Joe Lander of Atlanta drove a Thomas car 5 miles in 4 minutes, 55 seconds and one mile in 57 2/5 seconds.  These speeds broke the existing world's record for stock cars.  
    Racing was also very popular in the Ormond Beach-Daytona areas and local drivers there were the chief racing rivals of the Jacksonville (Pablo) Beach drivers.  After the Florida East Coast Auto Association was unwilling to financially support the Ormond-Daytona races, Jacksonville took over their racing dates.  To counter this, W. J. Morgan staged a competing event in Daytona involving new airplanes.  In 1911, the first Indianapolis 500 was run, and then WWI started, putting an end to the pioneer era of auto racing. 
     Racing revived briefly after the war. A July 4, 1921 race was held on Pablo Beach with $1,250. in cash prizes.  Some of the competing automobiles were the Chevrolet Baby Grand, Maxwell, Scripps-Booth, Overland 4, Ford, Hupmobile, Buick, Hudson and Essex. Motorcycle races were held the same weekend.  Only Harley-Davidsons and Indians competed. 
     Soon, racing left the sands of the beach for concrete raceways at Daytona and other venues, but those who watched the races from the shore or the seat of their own car, knew an immediate excitement that is no longer available.

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