The Daytona 500 is called the Great American Race, but it wasn't always that way.
Daytona International Speedway opened for business in 1959, but the roots of the current Sprint Cup series go back even further. The forerunner of the Sprint Cup started racing at Daytona on the beach course in 1949.
When those drivers moved to the giant 2 1/2-mile oval, they experienced high speeds and drafting. The new way of racing lured drivers from across the country to head south and test their skills. Some of them came from the Omaha area.
That first Daytona 500 will be remembered for its controversy. Johnny Beauchamp of Harlan, Iowa, behind the wheel of Omaha-based Roy Burdick's T-Bird, initially won, but four days later NASCAR awarded the win to Lee Petty. Beauchamp was relegated to second.
The next year, 1960, not only did Burdick return to Daytona with cars for his son, Bob, and his brother, Bud, but he had a car for a 26-year-old Omahan fresh out of the service who was looking to try his luck at Daytona as well.
That driver, Bob Kosiski, started driving for his dad, Joe, after graduating from high school in 1952 and won his first racing championship at the old Riverside Speedway south of Council Bluffs before a two-year stint in the service.
Bob and his dad headed to Daytona to tackle the lightning-fast high banks of what would become the World Center of Speed.
"Just me and my dad went down at first," Kosiski said. "Later, one of my brothers and another guy came down. The rest of our pit crew we got down there."
On Jan. 31, Bob first tested his skills at Daytona by competing in two 10-lap sprint races. He recorded 12th and 16th-place finishes. Later, on Feb. 12, he ran in a 100-mile qualifier, starting ninth and finishing 18th and taking home a whopping $50.
"The only asphalt track I had ever raced on was the flat quarter-mile oval at Playland Park in Council Bluffs," Kosiski said. "So the new Daytona International Speedway was a whole different experience."
Then on Feb. 14, it was time for the big show. In the Daytona 500, Kosiski started 36th in a field of 68 cars and finished 44th, retiring when the car developed rear-end problems. He received another windfall, this time $200. To put that in perspective, in 2015, the 43rd and final starter of the Daytona 500 received $262,390.
Asked if he noticed the draft, Kosiski said, "We noticed it, but I don't think we noticed it as much back then as they do now. Of course, we weren't going as fast as they do today."
Once back home, Bob returned to racing in the old IMCA fair circuit, recording four wins over a couple of years. But then tragedy struck. Coming home from an IMCA win, Bob's dad was killed in a highway accident. Bob stopped traveling the circuit after that, but he eventually returned to local racing and won 12 championships at Omaha's Sunset Speedway. He also won many other races throughout the Midwest, including the Nebraska State Championships at the state fair five years in a row.
It was the start of a dynasty. As Bob's driving career wound down, his sons, Joe and Steve and later Ed, started racing. Bob, Joe and Steve have all been inducted into the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame as well as the Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame.
That family tradition continues with the next generation. Bob's grandchildren are racing, while other grandchildren have tried their hand at it.
And the lineage goes all the way back to Daytona.
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