2 Dayton drivers were part of first Daytona 500 in 1959 (and got a combined $360 in prize money)

As the Daytona 500 returns today, it’s a time to remember that two Dayton drivers took part in the inaugural “Daytona International Sweepstakes,” as it was called on Feb. 22, 1959.

Neither Dick Freeman or Harold Smith won the race, but were there to make their mark in history.

Freeman won $250 for his 15th place finish in his No. 29 Chevrolet. Smith received $110 for driving his No. 69 Studebaker to 31st out of 59 cars.

They did finish ahead of famous drivers of the day Fireball Roberts (45th) and Richard Petty (57th).

The first showing of the Great America Race was the only time hardtops ran alongside convertibles. Smith raced the only Studebaker.

Both racers returned for the 1960 race. Smith finished 47th, and Freeman was 68th after making it just five laps around the 2.5 mile track.

The two drivers got their start at Forest Park Speedway’s 1/5-mile dirt oval in Dayton. Smith helped build race cars in his father’s speed shop at Ludlow and Washington streets. If Smith had one advantage over Freeman, it was his nuts-and-bolts knowledge of how race cars were built.

Off the track Freeman and Smith were the best of friends. Freeman died in 1975 of lung cancer at age 43. Smith died in 1988 of heart failure.

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