About 6,000 fans showed up for qualifying. Only seven cars ran against the clock. Roberts captured pole position for the 100-mile qualifying race. He qualified at 140.581 mph. Tim Flock, in another Ford, ran 138.121 mph. Joe Weatherly, driving a Chevrolet, ran 137.741. Jack Smith drove a Chevrolet at 136.425, and Bobby Johns, in a 2-year-old Chevy, rounded out the top five at 126.528. Tom Pistone was Sixth in a Thunderbird and Bob Welborn Seventh in a Chevrolet.
After the first wave of cars qualified without a problem, a long line of drivers registered for second- and third-round time trials.
For the qualifying race for Convertible Division cars, which would race with the Grand National machines in the very first Daytona 500, Marvin Panch qualified a Glen Wood-prepared Ford "ragtop" at 128.810 mph, and Gene White ran a 1957 Chevy at 120.048 mph. Of the 59 cars that started the first 500-miler, 20 were convertibles.
Welborn, averaging 143.198 mph, won the 100-mile Grand National qualifying race and started from the pole in the first 500. Lloyd "Shorty" Rollins won the 100-miler for Convertibles. He started Second in the 500.
The track's first fatality occurred on Wednesday (February 11) of the week leading up to the big race. Local driver Marshall Teague, driving an Indianapolis-type car, died in a crash trying to set a world record.
The 500 would be a historic event. Mechanical failure sidelined some early runners, and as the race began to wind down, two hard chargers-Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp-emerged as the only two drivers in the lead lap. A dozen times they swapped the lead in the final 125 miles. The crowd of 42,000 realized it was coming down to the wire between Petty's Oldsmobile and Beauchamp's Ford.
There was confusion at the finish, and the deciding factor was a newsreel film France received. After looking at it, he made a decision, and on Wednesday, three days after the race, announced Lee Petty the winner of the race and $19,000 in prize money. For the 500 miles, Petty averaged 135.521 miles per hour.
From 1959 forward, the Daytona 500 has left a ribbon of history as colorful as the sport itself. Lee Petty's career ended in 1961 at Daytona after he and Beau-champ locked up in turn three during one of the qualifying races and Petty sailed over the wall, suffering injuries that led to his eventual retirement.
Meanwhile, Lee's son, Richard, became a seven-time winner of the 500.
Dale Earnhardt once turned a car over down the backstretch, got out, looked at the car, got back in and finished the race in the crumpled car.
It took Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip a long time to ever be declared winners of the 500, with Earnhardt finally claiming victory in 1998, nine years after Waltrip claimed his sole win in the event. In 2001, the great Earnhardt died in a fourth-turn crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500.
Junior Johnson won the second annual Daytona 500 and claims he discovered how one car drafts another in the wind currents.
Bobby Johns finished Second, a young Richard Petty Third, Lee Petty Fourth and Johnny Allen Fifth.
Marvin Panch won the 500 in Smokey Yunick's Pontiac in 1961. Joe Weatherly finished Second, Paul Goldsmith was Third, Fred Lorenzen was Fourth and Cotton Owens Fifth.
The great Fireball Roberts won the 1962 Daytona 500. Richard Petty was Second, Joe Weatherly was Third, Jack Smith Fourth and Fred Lorenzen rounded out the top five.
Tiny Lund won the 500 in 1963, taking over for Marvin Panch in the Wood Brothers Ford after he pulled Panch from a burning car during a sports car race. Fred Lorenzen finished Second, Ned Jarrett Third, Nelson Stacy Fourth and Dan Gurney Fifth.
The year 1964 was not a good one for racing. Weatherly, Roberts and Jimmy Pardue were all killed in accidents. Richard Petty, however, with the introduction of the Hemi engine, drove to his first Daytona 500 victory. Jimmy Pardue finished Second, Paul Goldsmith Third, Marvin Panch Fourth and Jim Paschal Fifth.