You would think that there isn't much more to be done to enhance "TheGreat American Race,"--a.k.a. the Daytona 500. With the multitude ofextra activities, including Daytona USA and others, it's the ultimatefor the race fan.

But you might be surprised to learn that some of the first Daytona 500shad something quite unimaginable in today's race world. Recall thatthose late '40s races were actually run on the fast sand of the SouthDaytona Beach area. Well, not completely on the sand, as the north-southleg was run on the pavement of Highway A1A. That was one aspect of thoseexciting days, but there was one other deal that didn't even involveturning the race cars left.

It was called the Daytona Speed Trials and involved straight-line racingon the beach, with spectators allowed to watch. There were basically twokinds of racing--the flying mile and the standing-start mile. The ovaltrack cars were allowed to run, but there were also special carscontrived to maximize straight-line performance.

The '57 Mercury Monterey

One such car was a modified '57 Mercury Monterey built by Mercuryperformance expert Bill Stroppe. The example you see here is not thereal machine, but a close replica built by Royce Brechler of StevensPoint, Wisconsin. For a reason that will quickly become evident, themachine was coined "The Mermaid."

Brechler, a Mercury performance fan of the first order, saw a photo ofthe Mermaid on a cover of an old Oct. '57 Hot Rod magazine and decidedto copy it. "I tried to duplicate as best I could the procedures thatwere followed by Stroppe," Brechler said.

The first procedure deviated a bit from Stroppe's creation, as Brechlerwas unable to find a '57 Monterey convertible like Stroppe had used. "Idid finally buy a two-door sedan from a guy in Colorado and cut the topoff," said Brechler. "Now I realize that the original was stronger andheavier due to the cross-frame design of the convertible."

He then completely covered the back seat and passenger seat volume withsheetmetal, leaving a small opening for the driver's compartment.

The Stroppe technique involved race car builder Eddie Kuzma forming thealuminum canopy and fin-tailed headrest. With the improved aerodynamicsfrom the streamlined design and lighter weight, the machine would be abullet on the fast sand. And it's probably not surprising to learn thatthe car was also lowered considerably to decrease drag.

The windshield was removed by the Stroppe team and replaced with asmall, slick, wind deflector in front of the driver, a device that threwthe air over the top of the car. If you were to look quickly at thevehicle, you would swear that the top surface of a race boat was inplace.

Interestingly, the hood ornament was retained on this super-slickmachine. And check out those spun-aluminum cones that cover theheadlights. But all that aside, there was that flat vertical front endthat must have stacked up the air like a 4x8 piece of plywood. But thatwas the design nature of the cars during that era, so there was not muchthat could be done there.

The fabrication procedures for the original and replica Mermaids werepretty similar as the interiors were gutted, including the dash panel,with an instrument cluster fastened to the steering column with oil,temperature, tach, and fuel pressure gauges.

Brechler said that his completed replica weighed about 3,200 pounds,compared to the starting weight of 4,500 pounds. "I did run it once onthe dragstrip and turned a pretty respectable high 13-second run," hesaid. "But I certainly have no plans on taking it out on the sand to runit."

The engine in the real Mermaid was a 368 cubic-inch Lincoln mill whichwas bored 0.120 over, raising the displacement up to 387 cubic inches.The engine was actually built by Stroppe and carried Hilborn Injection,a Scintilla magneto, and a Harmon & Collins cam. The horsepower wasestimated to be over 400.

Brechler did his best to replicate the motor in his creation, evenbuying a 1956 Lincoln parts car to get its 368 cubic inch engine. Thereplica-builder added a number of period after-market and stock partsand has the engine up to about 370 horsepower.

The remainder of the real powertrain consisted of a three-speedBorg-Warner stick-shift tranny and a nine-inch Ford rear end. Thereplica carries an identical powertrain period set-up. It also carriedheavy-duty shocks.

Even with its unique aerodynamics and body shaping, the Mermaid didn'ttake any awards at the '57 Speed Trials. But it didn't do that poorlywith Art Chrisman at the wheel. The best one-way, one-mile run wascovered at an impressive average of 159 miles per hour.

Chrisman indicated, though, that had the radiator hose not broken on onerun, the speed could have been a lot higher. Reportedly, the car wasalso later run at the paved road course in Riverside, California.

The original Mermaid didn't have a very illustrious ending to its shortcareer, such as ending up in an automotive museum, which it certainlydeserved.

Following its speed runs, it was returned to California and participatedin some promotions. It then ended up in a used car lot. The originalengine was sold and found its way into a street car.

Brechler will tell you that the fact that his Mermaid is not the realitem doesn't make that much difference to the stock car fans that viewit. It's so close to the real thing that people forget that it was justrecently built.

One thing is sure: it certainly recalls another era of racing at Daytonaon the sand. Not in the expected oval shape, but blazing down that beachin a straight line.

That really must have been something to behold.