Ken Squier recalls the 1966 Rolex 24, Ken Miles and sports cars at Daytona

Leave a comment
Ed. note: Below is an essay written by NASCAR Hall of Famer Ken Squier on the origins of the Rolex 24 and Daytona International Speedway’s first 24-hour race, which was won by Ken Miles of ‘Ford vs. Ferrari’ fame and Lloyd Ruby in 1966. (In the video above, Sam Posey recalls Miles as an unsung hero who personified racing intensity in that Daytona win.)

Daytona, the World Center of Racing.

Certainly, stock cars and motorcycles, even boats on Lake Lloyd.

What about sports cars?

The desire was there … so was the challenge.  The interest?

The cars … the manufacturers rivaled anything … well, almost everything, except the crowds. Daytona and NASCAR had created a new fascination with the All-American stock car.

But road racing … sporty cars, if you will, did not fit the same mold.

Then came Daytona International Speedway. The 1959 Daytona 500 opened America’s eyes.

New thinking for auto racing, the tried and true sporty car to share the limelight. And nowhere better than this special venue created on Daytona beaches where world land speed records were established in the 1930s.

A new direction for an old, respected motorsports discipline.

The World Center of Racing, Daytona, ready in 1962 to give it a try. Bill France yearned for international attention, world recognition for his creation.

Why not put a new face on sports car racing?

On this 3.81-mile course, circulating through the infield, a talented marquee of the world’s best drivers and Daytona’s high-speed straightaways and 31-degree banking.

Why there was nothing to lose; everything to gain.

Ken Miles (right) and Lloyd Ruby were presented with Rolex watches in victory lane at Daytona International Speedway for winning a sports car race Feb. 28, 1965. A year later, they would win the first 24-hour race at the track (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

America’s A.J. Foyt, Houston, Texas, led that first 50-car field into a new dimension with world champion Jimmy Clark (31), Innes Ireland (32), Mexico’s great Pedro Rodriguez (43) and England’s Stirling Moss (4).

A preliminary event, 1962, one that was to have a Daytona finish.

Dan Gurney, with a blown engine and a big lead, waiting out the time in the tri-oval and then coasting across the finish line.  The world headlines were sensational, but the meager crowd chalked it up to another Bill France Daytona finish when Gurney came out of the 18-degree tri-oval to claim the prize.

Not many witnesses but what an opening. The foreign press stories put Daytona over the moon. However, from that incredible introduction, the crowds just weren’t there for that American introduction.

That was ’62.  By ’66, the Daytona boardroom was questioning this colossal red ink bonanza. The race had expanded in distance. It involved more of the prestigious names in sports car racing with talented fields up for the idea of winning at the new World Center of Speed.

Four years later, it still didn’t have traction.

Jim France, younger son of Bill France Sr., remembers the deliberations one day with Bill France Jr., his brother, and his dad. Bill Jr. said, “Why don’t we give it a try as a 24-hour race?”  And you know the rest of this story.

In 1966, the Ford Motor Co. committed themselves totally to winning the new western hemisphere’s great race.  Ford fostered not one but two teams, one from sportsman Carroll Shelby, and then they doubled down with a new team from Holman/Moody, the stock car people.

They added a team with Walt Hansgen and a newcomer, Mark Donohue. Hansgen put his ride at risk by insisting on this relative unknown, Donohue, as his co-driver. They bolstered that team with one of those GT40s featuring Peter Revson, whose mother called the track office nightly just checking on her son, Peter, as to how he was coming along.

Meanwhile, the second GT40 team was spawned in California. Both teams had the big engine, the Mark II 427 cubic inch. New Zealander Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren had been added to the Shelby Ford team.

Ferrari countered with a team starring Pedro Rodriguez and the sensational Mario Andretti, Nazareth, Pennsylvania, and drivers from the Ferrari Maranello team.

As that first Daytona 24-hour race came into darkness, it was cold and a new element was entertained, not recognized before.

The upper lane on those 31-degree banks froze. High speed on high banks with an icy glaze in that upper lane added a frosty touch to that first encounter. But at the outset Ken Miles with a Ford went to the front, even in these challenging conditions, with teammate Lloyd Ruby standing by for the second four-hour stint, and they never looked back.

A relative unknown driver outside of the sports car world, Ken Miles, gifted car builder and brilliant but relatively unheard-of driver, he was to sports cars what Junior Johnson or Holman Moody were to the stock car folks.

Miles was a genius in the cockpit and with the strategy of building cars to go left, right and super fast. He was unassuming and appeared like any of the American shade-tree mechanics from the stock car world, sort of a Junior Johnson type, and there was nothing shady about Ken Miles. He had a feeling for a car, its limitations and its full capabilities.

Miles and Texan Lloyd Ruby simply dominated the event. They went on to complete 678 laps and led 98.5% of the distance covered.

By the end of the 24 hours, the story was one of incredible domination led by Miles and Ruby who shared the car in four-hour stints. Whoops. The last stint was to be Ken Miles, but he strayed through a gate late in the race and was being led out of the grounds by the police. “You can’t go in there, it’s too dangerous.”

Miles was on the wrong side of the fence in the frenzy at the finish. In the turbulence of success, that’s how Ken Miles got messed up and almost missed victory lane.

In the confrontation with Ferrari, the Ford GT40s swept the podium with Dan Gurney and Jerry Grant taking second place and with Mark Donohue and Walt Hansgen finishing in third. John Holman, the noted Ford team guy was asked, “How’s it going?” To which he replied, “How do I know, I’ve only been in sports car racing since Friday.”

But Ford, France and the United States were firmly affixed to 24-hour road racing and Daytona was a centerpiece in world endurance racing.  It was an all-new experience for Daytona, Ken Miles and the entire racing world.

A new hero had been born in Ken Miles, and Ford had put itself in the heart of world endurance racing in that first 24-hour contest on American soil.

It was the end of the first chapter in the history of the 24 Hours of Daytona, and it didn’t come out badly for sports cars and the Ford GT40.

Squier was inducted Jan. 19, 2018 into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The Vermont native coined the phrase “The Great American Race” and co-founded the Motor Racing Network. He called the 1979 Daytona 500, the first full-length NASCAR race shown live on national TV.

Why it’s important for Fernando Alonso to be in the Indianapolis 500

Leave a comment

It seemed so natural, so logical that Fernando Alonso would be part of McLaren in the 104thIndianapolis 500, it likely could have been announced last August. gave all the reasons why an Alonso reunion with McLaren at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway made the most sense last week.

Tuesday afternoon, it became official.

Arrow McLaren SP announced the two-time Formula One champion as its third driver for the Indy 500. He joins full-time NTT IndyCar Series drivers, rookies Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward, on the Chevrolet team.

In a world where social media allows everyone to voice an opinion, there have been some who have asked, “Why is it so important that Fernando Alonso compete in the Indianapolis 500?”

To back up their point, the 33-driver starting lineup already includes many legendary names of the NTT IndyCar Series. From five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon to three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, to Indy 500 winners Alexander Rossi, Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay to two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden, the lineup is full of big names.

On the grand scale of international motorsports, however, Alonso has the charisma and star power that transcend into the mainstream of popularity.

“Having Fernando in the Indy 500 is going to be great for IndyCar, for the Indy 500 and for the fans,” Arrow McLaren SP co-owner Sam Schmidt said. “I can’t wait to see that get started.

“On behalf of Ric (Peterson, another co-owner of the team) and myself, Fernando needs to be in the 500, he needs to have an opportunity to win and that would be mega for IndyCar. For all of those reasons, we kept our foot on the gas and tried to position our team as the team of choice. Although we haven’t won, we have shown pace there and ran at the front. Now that we are with Chevrolet, we feel that we can get it done.

“Our team of guys is fantastic. We have been preparing for this for a long time, and we are poised to get it done. Ric and I are very excited about this.”

McLaren CEO Zak Brown has a long and close relationship with Alonso. Brown was in charge of Alonso’s Formula One program. Last year when Alonso did not compete in F1, he remained under contract as a McLaren “Ambassador.”

His contract with McLaren ended on Dec. 31, 2019. He officially rejoined the team with Tuesday’s Indy 500 announcement.

“He creates a tremendous amount of attention wherever he goes,” Brown said of Alonso. “When we did the first test at Indy in 2017, the live digital feed got over a couple million followers. Fernando will draw a lot of global attention to Indianapolis, to IndyCar, to our partners and to the sport as a whole.

“He is a great addition. He is an ambassador to the sport. He very much enjoys the way he is embraced in Indianapolis.”

With so many obstacles in the way of Alonso competing for any other team at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it just made sense that his best (and essentially his only) option come with the McLaren-backed operation.

But it was certainly a long, strange trip to get there.

“Clearly, Fernando was deep in conversations with Michael Andretti,” Brown said in a response to a question from in a Tuesday teleconference. “Short of Roger Penske’s team, he believes Michael’s team is the most successful team at Indianapolis, certainly in most recent times.

“If you are Fernando Alonso, and you want to win Indianapolis, then Andretti is clearly on your short list.

“We had a strong desire to run him. Fernando didn’t want to take a decision until after (the Dakar Rally) because he wanted to be very focused on that event. had two good opportunities. We kept him informed of some of the offseason moves we made. We secured Craig Hampson (as technical director after a successful term as Sebastien Bourdais’ engineer). When he was ready to make his decision, we had all of our pieces in place.

“He chose to move forward with us.”

Alonso’s best days at Indianapolis Motor Speedway came in an Andretti Autosport-prepared Honda in 2017. He got up to speed quickly, qualifying fifth and leading 27 laps before his Honda failed with 21 laps remaining.

Alonso’s worst days at Indianapolis Motor Speedway came in a McLaren-prepared Chevrolet. That was last year when one mistake after another showed how unprepared the McLaren operation was to take on the Indy 500 on its own. The list of faux pas was so long and legendary, there is no reason to recount them.

It all added up to one of the biggest names in international motorsports getting bumped out of the 33-car starting lineup by unheralded Kyle Kaiser of Juncos Racing.

McLaren officials knew the best way to succeed at Indianapolis was to join forces with a full-time IndyCar Series team. The main obstacle was Honda teams were ordered by corporate headquarters in Japan that the company’s days of doing business with McLaren were over because of disparaging and critical comments about its engine by Alonso and the team.

Under no circumstances would American Honda and Honda Performance Development be allowed to make a deal with McLaren.

Brown found a partner at what then was known as Arrow Schmidt Peterson, but that was a Honda team. To make the deal work, the team had to break the final year of its contract with Honda and switch to Chevrolet.

When the Arrow McLaren SP deal was announced on Aug. 9, 2019, Alonso still was attempting to negotiate an Indy 500 deal with Andretti Autosport, and the team was willing to make it happen. Sponsors were signed, and decisions were made leading to an expected announcement of an Alonso-Andretti combination for the Indy 500.

Honda Japan said no and held firm against doing business with Alonso for the same reasons as with McLaren.

Alonso would have to find a Chevrolet team for the Indy 500. Team Penske wasn’t interested in increasing to five cars at Indy. Ed Carpenter Racing also said no to expanding to four entries.

All paths led back to Arrow McLaren SP.

“It’s a great day in the history of our team,” co-owner Sam Schmidt said. “We’ve had a lot of changes recently. Arrow McLaren SP is a fantastic cooperation of the future of our company. This just raises the bar.

“Fernando Alonso, two world championships, two WEC’s, Le Mans and the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. He has made it perfectly clear the Indy 500 is the missing link there. We all know how competitive he was previously.

“For our team, we want to tap into his experience. We have two exciting rookies with Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward. We really think being around him for the month of May will help them raise their game and understand what it takes to be a true, top-level, world-renowned driver.”

Though it appeared this deal was put together quickly, Brown and Schmidt emphasized they had been wooing Alonso for several months.

The addition of Hampson, who oversaw a car Bourdais qualified for the Fast Nine in the past two Indy 500s, and a solid test at COTA helped make the case.

“These were things as Fernando made his final decision helped get him over the hump,” Brown said. “There was speculation he would go elsewhere with parallel conversations that were going on.”

Said Schmidt: “It seems like a bit of a whirlwind announcement, but we have been talking since November. We’ve always run a third car at Indy. This will be a very, very well-prepared, thought-out deal.”

In a separate interview with Leigh Diffey of NBC Sports, Alonso admitted he had several teams to consider and McLaren was always in that group.

“We had some conversations,” Alonso said. “I already said last year I wanted to explore more options. I’d been talking with Andretti as well and some other teams. Andretti and McLaren are the ones I feel in my heart are like family. At the end, it was the natural choice to go with McLaren, especially after last year and give the fans something back after the disappointment of last year.”

Alonso has long dreamed of winning the international “Triple Crown” of motorsports — the Grand Prix of Monaco, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500.

Alonso behind the wheel of the famed Marmon Wasp, the first winning car in the 1911 Indianapolis 500 — INDYCAR Photo

Having conquered Monaco and Le Mans, Indy remains the final event to master for the Spaniard.

“The Indy 500 completes the big three races in motorsports, and three completely different disciplines,” Alonso explained. “It makes you quite a complete driver. That’s what I’m looking for in this stage of my career. The Indy 500 is probably the biggest priority for me now.

“Oval racing is unique, but the Indianapolis Motor Speedway even more. It’s a huge place. There are four corners but all very different. The traffic, the slipstream, the strategy, the tire degradation. The downforce you run differently from practice. The race, you are adjusting downforce. Even if it seems a simple way to drive, over 200 laps, you never repeat the same line or speed in any laps. It’s quite difficult to adjust the minimum settings in the car.”

The key to completing the deal was Michael Andretti allowing mortgage firm Ruoff to follow Alonso as his Indy 500 sponsor to Arrow McLaren SP after the deal with Andretti Autosport fell through.

“Ruoff is a partner of Michael’s, he’s a good friend of mine and a partner in Australia,” Brown said, referring to the Virgin Australia Supercars team. “As he was having his conversations with Fernando, Ruoff was looking for something with big impact and exposure. When Michael and Fernando were unable to get their deal together, Ruoff asked Michael if he would mind going where Fernando goes. Michael gave his blessing, he cut a deal with Ruoff, and we are excited to have them.”

Alonso is just as excited to return at Indy despite last year’s disappointment, gleefully describing the Brickyard’s appeal in his interview with Diffey.

“Definitely. once you experience the Indy 500, it’ll remain always in your heart,” Alonso said. “I think the Indy 500 is on top of all the events I’ve ever participated. The atmosphere, the adrenaline, the traditions all the celebrations before the race. Even the milk! It arrives in a fridge Sunday morning and goes to the Pagoda.

“There are things as a driver you understand the importance of the moment and how big that race is worldwide.”

And that is why it is important that drivers such as Alonso compete in the Indianapolis 500. It’s an event that is bigger than the sport itself.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500