(TOLEDO, Ohio - February 10, 2012) - With the Automobile Racing Club of America celebrating its 60th season in 2012, ARCA will look back throughout the season on the racing body's most notable and historical moments, chronicling the best stories of every era from ARCA's dawn in 1953 to today.
As the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards opens its season for the 49th consecutive year at Daytona International Speedway, it's only fitting to begin with the friendship and partnership between two racing pioneers - a pairing which would ensure ARCA's position at the historic track for years to come.
MARC Becomes ARCA
The story of Bill France Sr. is known far and wide. Born in Washington, D.C. in 1909, France became the co-founder of NASCAR just one year before his 40th birthday.
His era presiding over the sport included many of the historical innovations known to racing fans today. He proposed the construction of Daytona International Speedway, built the Daytona 500 into stock car racing's premiere event, delivered title sponsorship and major television contracts to NASCAR, and helped make stock car racing one of America's most fan-friendly and popular sporting and entertainment choices.
But to become the successful businessman in what was, in the 1940s, a rather unknown world of stock car racing, France had to be something else first: a racer.
As a teenager, France skipped school to race his family's Ford Model T. Racing and speed fascinated him, and he knew in the early 1930s that the world land speed record had been broken four times in recent years in Daytona Beach, Fla. That, along with the gripping struggle of the Great Depression, caused France to move his family from Washington to Florida in 1935. Just as France moved, however, record seekers bolted to Utah and the Bonneville Salt Flats, claiming the Daytona speed track had become too worn and unfit for new standards.
With the city searching for new sources of revenue and another hook to draw visitors, France stepped up. He helped to organize some of the first stock car races traversing both road and sand in Daytona Beach, cementing himself as part of the local racing tradition. While continuing this pursuit and racing in the 1940s, France met John Marcum. Marcum, like France, had also cut corners to race in his teens. Where France had skipped school, Marcum lied about his age.
Just after World War II, France and Marcum raced together at Fort Wayne Speedway in Indiana and Fort Miami Speedway in Maumee, Ohio, forging an important, long-lasting friendship. France formed NASCAR in 1948, and brought Marcum with him as an official for the new sanction.
With France's idea and know-how of stock car sanctioning in his mind, Marcum developed a plan. Marcum and his wife, Mildred, created a Midwestern auto racing series in 1953, then known as MARC - or Midwest Association for Race Cars. Given France's blessing, Marcum developed MARC as a northern counterpart to France's NASCAR, racing for the first time at Dayton Speedway.
Marcum traveled primarily throughout the Midwest but also to the south and west to promote his product throughout the 1950s, taking his series to places like Dayton, Canfield Speedway and Toledo Raceway Park in Ohio, Salem Speedway in Indiana, and even tracks in Nevada, Texas, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, and Virginia, among other far-flung states.
Before 1964 began, however, France (above, right) encouraged Marcum (above, left) to give his series a more national scope. He asked Marcum about his interest in bringing MARC to Daytona, where Daytona International Speedway had just been built in 1959. The impressive facility and a growing audience would give Marcum's organization just the exposure it needed to become a national power.
Marcum seized the opportunity, taking France's suggestion that a different name would make MARC more prominent across the country. Thus, the Automobile Racing Club of America was born, allowing Marcum to keep a stake in his company's Midwestern roots but also grow outside of the region and into numerous important markets.
On February 8, 1964, Nelson Stacy (right) won the first Daytona ARCA 250, taking one hour, 37 minutes, and 27 seconds to write the first chapter of the sanction's history on the historic superspeedway. Since then, ARCA's all-time wins leader Iggy Katona scored three Daytona wins, and five other drivers earned two. The list of Daytona winner includes Benny Parsons, Tim Richmond, Ryan Newman, Kyle Petty, Kyle Busch, Ramo Stott, Jack Bowsher, and of course, seven-time winner Bobby Gerhart.
Gerhart will aim for his eighth Daytona victory in 25 races in next Saturday's Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200, and nearly 60 other veterans and rising drivers will join him in an attempt to etch another name in Daytona lore. While the unpredictability of a superspeedway race leaves that driver's identity uncertain as of today, one thing is for sure: they'll have Bill France, John Marcum, and a 1964 agreement to thank for their position at Daytona International Speedway.