The 1959 NASCAR Grand National season was full of excitement as the very first Daytona 500 was held on a massive new, 2.5-mile speedway in Daytona Beach. The Feb. 22 show turned out to be better than a Hollywood production. For 500 miles, devoid of a single caution period, America's finest machinery battled around the new Daytona International Speedway in dizzying fashion. Speeds were alarming -- certainly faster than any stock car had gone and within a whisker of the top speeds turned at Indy.
In the late stages, the race boiled down to a three-car struggle between Lee Petty's Oldsmobile, Johnny Beauchamp's Thunderbird, and Joe Weatherly's Chevy. The finish was so close Bill France stepped in to announce the results were "unofficial" until all available evidence could be studied in the form of photos and film. After 61 hours, Lee Petty was declared the official winner, by about one foot. Petty averaged 135.521 mph, 33 mph faster than any other NASCAR Grand National race.
The Daytona 500 was an electric success that generated more publicity than any other stock car race to that point in history. A trackside audience of 41,921 watched as NASCAR stock car racing was about to venture into a whole new chapter of ultrafast speedways. You can learn about these events and more in the following article, from season highlights to the year's final standings, all packed with plenty of photos.February 1, 1959: Daytona 500
Practice sessions begin on the new Daytona International Speedway in preparation for the inaugural Daytona 500. Shakedown runs are conducted despite the fact that the guardrail isn't completed.
The 31-degree banking at Daytona International Speedway was to be the steepest in the country, and it awed many drivers. Modified driver Jimmy Thompson perhaps summed it up best when he said, "There have been other tracks that separated the men from the boys. This is the track that will separate the brave from the weak after the boys are gone. See more pictures of NASCAR.
Johnny Beauchamp is flagged the winner of the first Daytona 500 in a photo finish with Lee Petty. Beauchamp and Petty cross the finish line abreast after 500 miles of green-flag racing. Most observers feel that Petty had reached the finish line first. Bill France announces the results are unofficial and solicits all still photos and film so a decisive winner can be determined.
February 25, 1959
Lee Petty is officially declared the winner of the Daytona 500-mile race 61 hours after the checkered flag fell on the historic event. NASCAR president Bill France says photographs and film evidence "substantiated" that Petty won the hard-fought race.
Number 99 Shorty Rollins runs just ahead of #98 Marvin Panch in the 100-mile qualifying race for NASCAR Convertibles. Rollins passed Glen Wood on the final lap and went on to win the first automobile race staged at the new Daytona racing facility. Panch finished second and Lee Petty was third, as Wood, who fell victim to a new phenomenon called "drafting," fell to fourth place.
Junior Johnson wins the 100-miler at Wilson Speedway in North Carolina for his first win of the 1959 season. Less than an hour before the race, the wooden grandstand catches on fire and burns to the ground. No one is injured, but the 8,000 spectators have to watch the race while standing along the catch fence.
May 2, 1959
Junior Johnson rolls his Ford in practice, but drives the hastily repaired machine to victory in the 100-mile NASCAR Grand National race at Hickory Speedway. Johnson finishes two laps ahead of runner-up Joe Weatherly.
Thirty-eight cars started the NASCAR Grand National 100-mile qualifying race on Friday, Feb. 20. The 40-lap race was a wide-open sprint from the start, with cars running at top speed in a variety of grooves. Bob Welborn held off pesky rookie Fritz Wilson to win the race by a half car length. Welborn's average speed for the 100-miler was 143.198 mph, which just happened to be the exact time of fastest qualifier Cotton Owens.
Tom Pistone, driving a 1959 Ford Thunderbird, scores his first career win in the 100-miler at Trenton Speedway. Rookie Bob Burdick, making his first NASCAR Grand National start, captures the pole.
June 14, 1959
Richard Petty finishes first in the 100-miler at Atlanta's Lakewood Speedway, but is protested by the second-place finisher, who happens to be his father Lee. After NASCAR officials study the scorecards, Lee is officially declared the winner with Richard second.
The cars of Weatherly, Petty, and Beauchamp approach the finish line in a three-abreast cluster. Weatherly was two laps behind and would finish fifth. Petty took the lead with four laps remaining, but Beauchamp caught a good draft in the final turn, seized the opportunity, and pulled alongside Petty at the stripe.
Fireball Roberts scores his first win in his hometown by driving a Pontiac to victory in the inaugural Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway. Roberts outruns Joe Weatherly's Convertible Thunderbird in the caution-free event.
July 29, 1959
Groundbreaking ceremonies for the new Charlotte Motor Speedway take place on a sultry summer morning. The new speedway will be built by Curtis Turner and Bruton Smith, and the first race is scheduled for May 1960.
August 1, 1959
Ned Jarrett records his first NASCAR Grand National win in the 100-miler at Myrtle Beach, S.C. Jarrett had purchased the car only a couple of days earlier with a postdated check that wouldn't clear the bank until the Monday after the race.
Jack Smith's #47 Chevrolet and Richard Petty's Plymouth start on the front row for the 99-mile NASCAR Grand National race at Hillsboro. It was the first career front-row start for the 22-year-old Petty. Smith led in the early stages, but fell out with a broken axle. Petty was running second in the final laps when he, too, broke an axle on the choppy dirt track. He still wound up third despite completing only 100 of the 110 laps.
Jim Reed rides his Chevrolet to a big win in the 10th annual Southern 500 at Darlington. Reed gives Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. its first NASCAR win on a superspeedway. Rookie Bob Burdick finishes second.
October 25, 1959
Jack Smith wins the 1959 NASCAR Grand National finale at Concord, N.C., for his fourth win of the season. Rather than accepting a winner's check for $1,500, Smith elects to take home a new 1960 Ford offered by promoter Bruton Smith. Lee Petty wraps up his third championship by 1,830 points over Cotton Owens.
Continue on to the next page to learn the full results of the 1959 NASCAR Grand National season.For more information on all things NASCAR, see: