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

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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.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.