Today, Daytona International Speedway almost seems located in downtown Daytona Beach. Extensive commerce and development surround the world-famous attraction.
The soaring grandstands and giant commercial signage are testimony to the success of our locally born NASCAR institution.
But, it was not always this way.
The “new” speedway opened in 1960, rendering obsolete the old beach race course.
The new grandstands held names like Petty, Roberts and others from the racing pantheon. The cars were true stock cars, lightened up and crammed with big engines and roll bars. Some were even convertibles.
Safety gear for the divers was scant, and wrecks were often fatal.
The year was 1962. My father was doing some kind of legal work with NASCAR, and my buddy Tommy Smith and I tagged along. The track headquarters was just a small two-story concrete block building where the main office now sits.
The small waiting room was where Tommy and I sat. I was 11, and Tommy was 10.
A big man in a suit and tie and a thin mustache came into the waiting room and hailed us both. After some introductions, he said his name was Fonty Flock, and asked if we wanted to take a ride on the speedway tri-oval.
Apparently, he had already cleared it with my dad, so out we went to his four-door Chrysler.
He spoke of Hemi engines, his new car, and the need to drive above 90 mph to stay on the high banks. To us, Fonty was just a grown man with a suit.
What we didn’t realize until much later was that he was a professional race car driver with a flamboyant reputation.
The “Fabulous Flock Brothers,” also known as the “Mad Flock Brothers,” consisting of Fonty, Tim and Bob Flock, were true pioneers of stock car racing on the old Daytona beach course, and at Darlington and elsewhere.
They were some of the earliest heroes of NASCAR.
The brothers were characters and “good ol’ boys” from Alabama.
Stories abound that, like other early NASCAR greats, they ran moonshine.
In the 1950s, Fonty raced in Bermuda shorts and argyle socks. He won 19 Grand National races.
Brother Tim was said to race with a monkey strapped in as co-pilot. In one race, the monkey got loose and caused a ruckus in the speeding race car.
After that, no more monkeys were allowed in race cars. Probably a good idea.
So here we were — two young boys riding in the front seat of Fonty Flock’s Chrysler Hemi, speeding down the track at over 100 miles per hour. Mind you, this was before seat belts.
To us, it was amazing. Fonty would drive up near the wall and explain how to pass another car by whipping down to the lower part of the track.
We went ’round and ’round the track. What I remember most was a sensation of always going uphill on the turns.
Observing from the grandstands, the banked turns just look like curves, but the curves seem straight and uphill in a speeding car.
On the fourth turn, Fonty stopped, and told us to try to climb up the track. It was hard. The track is steep.
Many years later, I had the sad misfortune of watching Dale Earnhardt Sr. die on that same corner, in the exact spot where two young boys had such fun with an earlier NASCAR legend.
Later, we went back into the office, and Fonty gave us both a “NASCAR 100 Miles Per Hour” pin that was given out to those who braved the famous speedway.
After these many years, I still have mine to remind me of my hour with Fonty Flock.
— Mancinik is a fifth-generation Floridian and a native of DeLand. He has been an active Realtor for more than 40 years.