On Feb. 11, 1959, 11 days before the first Daytona 500, former Hudson Hornet stock-car ace turned Indy-car driver Marshall Teague was asked to attempt a new closed-course record at the 2.5-mile Daytona Int’l Speedway in Chapman Root’s streamlined Indianapolis roadster.
Teague, a friend of Bill France, had been invited to run to promote France’s new track and the Championship car race scheduled there April 4. While running laps in excess of 170 miles per hour, Teague spun in turn three. The car went into a series of flips, flinging Teague, seat and all, from the car. He died instantly.
Although many of the drivers had recently raced and survived two-consecutive years at Monza, Italy, a similarly daunting high-banked high-speed track, Teague’s death caused those about to compete in April’s races to approach the event with an ominous foreboding.
The show, sanctioned by USAC, was a doubleheader. The first race, a 100-miler, was open to speedway-type cars only. It paid points toward the USAC National Championship. The second race, also scheduled for 100 miles, was a non-points paying Formula Libre event for speedway-type cars and FIA sports cars of unlimited piston size.
Speeds were anticipated to be blindingly fast. They were. George Amick, the 1958 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, set the practice pace with a then-astonishing run in excess of 176 mph. In comparison, the quick lap for the Daytona 500 had been 135 mph.
Speeds slowed only slightly for qualifying. Dick Rathmann in the No. 41 Sumar Special, the team car to Teague’s ill-fated mount, captured the pole at 173.689 mph. His brother Jim lined up second.
The 20-car field, which included such racing luminaries as A.J. Foyt, Roger Ward, Pat Flaherty, Tony Bettenhausen and Eddie Sachs, took the green flag beneath sunny skies, but before a sparse crowd, estimated at only 7,500.
Despite the pre-race concerns, the race was clean. Only Dempsey Wilson had problems, spinning out on lap 28. When Jim Rathmann flashed under the checkered flag, at an average speed of 170.261 mph, USAC and Daytona Int’l Speedway officials collectively let out the breath they’d been holding for 40 laps.
Coming off turn two just as Rathmann was getting the checkered flag, a gust of wind caught Amick’s car. It spun and nosed heavily into the guardrail. The front end of the car was ripped off, and what remained flipped upside down and slid down the backstretch. When the car was righted, the little driver with the huge potential was dead.
Because of the lengthy cleanup — it took nearly two hours to fix the guardrail — the second race was shortened to 50 miles and was also won by Jim Rathmann at a more moderate 160.694 mph.
That afternoon the boys from the Midwest loaded their low-slung roadsters under a pall and quietly left Daytona.
History has been a good teacher, and Indianapolis cars have never again been unleashed on Daytona Int’l Speedway’s oval.