Did you ever spend Spring Break in Daytona Beach? Well, if you did, just imagine those flat stretches of sandy beach being as crowded as they are today—not with rowdy college kids, but race cars and spectators. Today, when we think of a racetrack in Daytona Beach, we think of Daytona International Speedway—the granddaddy of all race tracks. Well, scratch that out of your mind. In the early days, the track at Daytona was made up of a long stretch of sandy beach and an equally long stretch of Highway A1A.

In February of 1956, Russ Truelove took his Mercury of the same year to the sands of Daytona Beach to race around with his friends for an early Spring Break and the 1956 NASCAR Grand National for stock cars on the four-mile beach course. Racers, like Truelove, Tim Flock, Fireball Roberts, and Lee Petty raced around in Big Three production cars with the only NASCAR safety requirement being a roll over bar. Other than fixing the doors so they would not fly open during the race, which was done with two I-bolts and a chain strung between the doors, Truelove raced this red rocket with everything intact from the factory—including turn signals. Truelove actually raced on the beach the year before.

“I drove our family car, a 1955 Ford, in the race on the beach,” he says. “I drove it down there and drove it home. I think I finished about 25th.”

That one race was not enough for Truelove—he was hooked. Through a mutual friend, he met a “big shot” from Ford who told him that if he wanted to race in Daytona, and run Mercury, they would help him out with his accommodations. The next thing Truelove did was order the Mercury 64C body, which is what the team was going to use in the race.

“I bought the car through the dealership where I worked as a service manager,” says Truelove. “I think I paid around $2,400 for the car. It showed up in a color very similar to what the car is now. Once I got the car, I installed the roll over bar, fixed the doors, painted it all up, and lettered it.”

Under the hood of Truelove’s 1956 Mercury, you’ll find a 312 cubic-inch V8 motor, along with a 260 engine kit which included a set of heads, two 4-barrel carburetors, pushrods, and a cam.

“I received a call from the team’s parts man [John Holman] who told me that Ed Sullivan, who was announcing for Mercury at the time, was going to announce the availability of this 260 kit. The kit had to be announced two weeks before the race so that it could be available for the public. Holman told me that the kit would be ready for me when I got to Daytona,” said Truelove.

Since Truelove was going to drive his race car down to Daytona—not tow it— he had to get it insured.

“I called a friend of mine who worked for Nationwide Insurance at the time. I told him I had just bought a new Mercury and needed insurance on it. Two weeks later he showed up with the policy. He saw the car sitting there and said, ‘That’s not what I’m insuring is it?’ I told him my wife was driving the new car. This one belonged to the dealership. He took my word on it—never went over to check it out,” Truelove explains. With his Firestone Super Sport tires purchased for racing on the sand, Truelove drove his Mercury to Daytona with the radio playing.

“Once I got to Daytona and found the shop, my mechanic, Ozzie, installed the 260 kit,” says Truelove. “There wasn’t much testing back then, so all we did was fire it up. When it came time for the time trials I was the first of the Mercurys out.”

Truelove and another Mercury driver ran the beach course with a speed of 128.205 miles per hour. Truelove qualified fifth, while two other Mercurys were in the top ten. Unfortunately, the actual race did not go as smoothly. With only two payments made on his 1956 Mercury, Truelove flipped his red rocket multiple times in the sand.

“In the first lap we had a big wreck on the A1A stretch going into the south turn,” he says. “They got those cleared away and we got going again. Obviously the higher horsepower cars and the experienced drivers, which I wasn’t at the time, were getting up through the pack. Before the wreck, I remember Jimmy Reed was on the outside of me while we were heading down the beach going into the north turn. I thought, ‘I am going to take him underneath.’ Well, when I got down underneath, Jimmy was out where he belonged, and I was not where I belonged. I started in too deep and since the sand was really soft, it dug in a bit. I tried to correct, but because of a very slow steering/gear ratio, the car never caught up to where it was supposed to be.” Truelove flipped about six times, but managed to climb out the passenger-side door.

“My bell was rung pretty hard though,” he says. Daytona was not the last race for Truelove’s Mercury.

“We actually did some modifications to improve the handling and ran some short tracks in the Northeast,” he explains.

After fixing the body, the ‘56 Mercury ran about eight or nine races in 1956, and in 1957 Truelove went back to the beach course at Daytona only to blow the engine during the race. He never got rid of his race car and today still enjoys driving it and showing it off at car shows.