by Dan Smith
When I began to think about a title for my new book on the history of our beach, the most obvious choice was "The World's Most Famous Beach." I wrote that across the top of a page, and sat and stared at it. Somehow it did not seem right. Perhaps a bit superfluous and maybe on the flip side just a little lightweight.
When I wrote "The World's Greatest Beach" I knew I had something -- a simple, yet perfect, description of the 40 miles of sand that rims Volusia County.
Of the nearly 100 drivable beaches around the world, none can compare with our own. In the history of the world, no other natural occurrence has had the effect of the great beach. As the first reliable automotive test track, the beach at Ormond and Daytona played a major role in kicking off the industrial revolution in America and Europe.
When I began to write the history of our beach, I knew it would be heavy with racing and land speed record facts, but I also knew it would have to be a lot more. It was a daunting task. I began and stopped over and over again. How could I be so arrogant as to think that I could write such a comprehensive tome? After much deliberation, I decided to try and keep the focus on the beach itself and leave the story of the adjoining cities and towns to another. In this book, I only touch briefly on the beach south of Ponce Inlet and opted instead to concentrate on the Ormond -Daytona strand.
I begin with Juan Ponce de Leon, move into the pioneer years and then to the beginning of beach racing. My story covers how the beach became Florida's first airport and gets into things like hippies, shark bites and rogue waves. I must admit one of my main motivations for doing this book was a need to tell the story of the centennial events that were staged to celebrate the 100-year anniversaries of the first beach speed tournaments. Eight centennials were held at Ormond Beach and this coming March 2013 will mark the 10-year anniversary of the first one. Those of you who attended that first event in 2003 will never forget the fabulous array of Edwardian era race cars that were presented. Experts in attendance told me it was the finest group of early racers ever assembled.
Of course, the most popular of those centennial events was the steam car meet. We brought over 60 steamers to the beach from as far away as England and Australia and for a week no one could drive the local streets without seeing a cloud from a steam car. Folks still ask me when they will come back, but unfortunately I don't know if they ever will.
After that, we hosted the fine Rolls Royce centennial and in 2008 we ran Rodney Rucker's big streamliner on the beach. That car was more than 30 feet long and powered by a 2500 hp Packard P.T. boat engine. Quite a sight! In my book you will find a black and white photo of that car and more than 70 other pictures portraying various aspects of beach life.
The book is available at the Ormond Beach Historical Society (386) 677-7005 or The Halifax Historical Museum (386) 255-6976. For a personalized copy stop by my upcoming book signing at The Book Shelf, 99 S. Yonge St. (U.S. 1) in Ormond Beach. I will be there from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 15. Come on in and say hello and let's talk a little history (or fishing).
Dan Smith is on the board of directors for the Ormond Beach Historical Society, The Motor Racing Heritage Association and is the author of a fishing book.