Along with the arrival of personal mechanized locomotion in the final years of the 19th century came a new American lust for speed. The earliest machines, both automobiles and motorcycles alike were cumbersome and demanding, but they were also capable of exhilarating new levels of speed. At as the turn of the century the developing machines were becoming more readily available, but suitable venues in which to stretch them out were not so common. 

From coast to coast, American roads had changed little since the country’s founding and were no place for testing any boundaries. Dirt tracks were commonplace, but were built to accommodate animal races and as such were much too small. Around the globe bicycle racing was at the peek of its popularity, but the wooden oval Velodromes on which the races took place were not large enough for even two motorcycles, much less an automobile. But in the right conditions and in the right regions nature provided a solution for man’s latest obsession with speed. Vast tracks of smooth, hard-packed sand stretched out for miles along America’s seaboard, in some places as far as the eye could see, and the velocity-hungry few found a new home.

In America, the birthplace of speed as it is now known today was first established in 1902, when a vacationing auto enthusiast named J.F. Hathaway first publicized the potential that the beach in front of his hotel had for running auto races. The hotel that Hathaway was staying at was named the Ormond Hotel, on the north end of Daytona, the location that would soon become host to the fastest men on Earth. It was at the height of the Gilded age, in 1886 that a rail line was completed to the Ormond Beach area, and just two years later in 1888 construction of the luxurious Ormond Hotel was completed. The railway provided easy transportation to the wide stretches of white sands of Ormond, and the Hotel immediately became a favorite among the era’s elite industrial barons, including American auto pioneers like Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and J.D. Rockefeller. 

It is said that Hathaway ventured down to the shoreline while vacationing in 1902 to watch a bicycle race. Inspired, he then took his automobile down onto the sand and was delighted by the experience. Hathaway then shared his vision for automobile races with the hotel’s management, took a handful of photographs, and wrote the editor of The Automobile magazine. William J. Morgan, the editor of the Automobile magazine and an early racing promoter packed up and immediately headed to the famous resort on Florida’s east coast to see the “track” for himself. Plans were set and on March 26, 1903, as witnessed by the timing representatives of the American Automobile Association the first official races were made on the sands of Ormond. The years following saw the construction of the Ormond Garage as well and expanded carnival of speed. Events too grew to include motorcycles, bicycles, and land speed cars. American auto and motorcycle legends flocked to America’s new capital of speed, new kings earned their crown each year, and America’s shoreline became our first cathedral of speed.

Pictured is New York native and American racing pioneer Eugene Gaestrel on board a twin cylinder N.S.U. along with official R.F. Kelsey during the 1909 Carnival of Speed at Ormond Beach, FL.

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