Sunday, January 23, 2022

Rolex Racing Champions: The Evolution of The Rolex Racing Revolution

Note from Jake: This AMAZING article is Nick Gould's first long-form article he researched and wrote for Jake's Rolex World. Nick is an extremely talented Rolex history researcher and I could not be more pleased to present his significant contribution to capturing a great deal of previously undocumented Rolex racing history! Six years ago, I published a story named "The Complete History Of The Rolex Daytona Cosmograph", and I believe Nick's fascinating racing story insight provides a superb addition to Rolex Racing History!!!

...Rolex's Road to Daytona...

Rolex Racing


The Evolution of The Rolex Racing Revolution

Have you ever wondered how the Rolex Daytona became The Rolex Daytona? This story showcases many stories about race car driver history and legendary triumphs that lead up to and resulted in Rolex's development of the Rolex Daytona. Today, when most people think about Rolex and auto racing, two things pop into their mind: The first is the Rolex Daytona, and the second is Paul Newman

Paul Newman


Much of this has to do with the fact that Paul Newman's exotic dial Daytona which is now commonly referred to as "Newman's Own Paul Newman Daytona" sold at auction for a mind-shattering $17.8 Million.

One of the great Rolex history questions is how did the Rolex Daytona get to be The Rolex Daytona? This amazing story dives into detail on how the legend came to be, and offers great insight into the development of the American racing world and beyond.  

When it comes to motor racing in the United States, we most associate Rolex with the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. 

Daytona Beach Speedway

Before the Daytona Speedway was opened in 1959, racing began on the flat hard-packed sand of Daytona Beach (pictured below) as well as on Ormond Beach. With a width of 500 feet and 27 miles in length, it made Daytona Beach perfect for racing cars at high speed. 

Supersonic Speed King

Famed British racer Sir Malcolm Campbell set many land speed records in Europe before he made it to the United States.

Campbell set his final land speed record at Daytona Beach in 1935, with a speed of 276.82 miles per hour in his famous vehicle, Bluebird.  Campbell was a wearer of Rolex Oyster watches and his son Donald Campbell, who followed in his father's footsteps in pursuing land and water-based speed records, wore a reference 6542 GMT Master on jubilee bracelet.

Malcolm Campbell in 1933 at Daytona Beach with Bluebird

Sir Malcolm Campbell was a Rolex fanatic and we see him below wearing his Rolex Oyster with a cushion case [Think Early Panerai Reference 3646 Art-Deco style].

Rolex founder, Hans Wilsdorf was so impressed with Sir Malcolm Campbell's achievements, he offered him to become the first male Rolex Brand Ambassador, and pictured below we see a 1930 Rolex magazine ad featuring Sir Malcolm Campbell.

Sir Malcolm Campbell set one land speed record after another, and in his later years of record setting, ended up in the U.S.A. racing his significantly updated Blue Bird up and down Daytona Beach in Florida.

The video below shows Sir Malcolm Cambell setting a new land speed record on the hard-packed sand of Daytona Beach, Florida.

Pictured below is Donald Campbell, son of Sir Malcolm Campbell wearing his Rolex reference 6542 GMT-Master on jubilee bracelet, at the 1960 Goodwood Festival of Speed.

Rolex Timekeeping

Rolex became the official timekeeper of the Daytona International Speedway in 1962. In 1963, Rolex named their reference 6239 chronograph after the famed racetrack and today the Rolex Daytona Chronograph is known all over the world. Rolex remains a sponsor of the annual 24 Hours of Daytona race to this day and every winning driver of their respective class receives a Rolex Daytona.

In addition to the 24 Hours of Daytona, Rolex gave watches to the winners of the Daytona 500 and the Firecracker 400 races also held at Daytona Speedway. 

I also came across many historical images of drivers from the United States and from other countries, who have worn Rolexes which have previously been undocumented. Let's take a look at the cornucopia of drivers who wore a timepiece from the crown. The first driver is Dan Gurney, since he was the earliest wearer of a Rolex chronograph I have found to date.

Dan Gurney


1967 24 Hours of Le Mans Winner
Stainless Steel Rolex Datejust and 6234 Chronograph

Dan Gurney raced in Formula One, Indy Car, NASCAR, Can-Am, and Trans-Am Series. He was the first driver to win in four different forms of motor racing categories: Sports Cars, Formula One, Indy Car and NASCAR. In 1967, with co-driver A.J Foyt, they famously won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving a Ford GT40.

With an amazing career dating back to 1958, Dan Gurney is considered to be one of the God's of racing. Gurney is pictured below after winning the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans. His teammate for the race, A. J. Foyt is standing next to him. This photo is very famous as Dan Gurney did not drink alcohol, so when they won, he shook-up the champagne, and popped the cork and poured it all over the place–a tradition that he started, which continues to this day.

In the photo below, we see a close-up of Dan Gurney's Rolex Datejust on a Jubilee bracelet

The Ford GT40 that Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt won the 24 Hours Of Le Mans in is pictured below. By the way, this is the first and only time an All-American team, driving an American car has ever won the 24 Hours Of Le Mans!!!

Dan Gurney is pictured below behind the wheel during the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Apart from the Datejust, Gurney wore a Rolex Reference 6234 chronograph, which is the grandfather of the reference 6239 Daytona. 

In the photo below dated October 17, 1960 we see Gurney having his pre-race medical before the United States Grand Prix. Gurney is wearing his stainless steel 6234 chronograph on an Oyster bracelet and note the lack of end links since it was a straight-end bracelet.

The same year Rolex became the official timekeeper of Daytona, Gurney won the 1962 Daytona Continental, which was a 3 hour race.

Here is a great video of Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt reminiscing on their 24 Hours of Le Mans win in 1967.

Masten Gregory


Masten Gregory raced in Formula One between 1957 and 1965. He is only one of nineteen drivers to compete in all three legs of the Triple Crown of Motorsport (Indianapolis 500, 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Monaco Grand Prix).

Gregory didn’t wear a Daytona chronograph, but a Rolex Datejust on a leather strap, which he was photographed wearing at the 12 Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway on the 24th of March, 1956 (pictured below). What makes his Datejust standout is the lack of cyclops on the plexiglass. Gregory’s Datejust has a border around the date window which indicates it one of the last Datejusts produced without the cyclops, which Rolex introduced in 1955.

Gregory racing at the 1965 12 Hours of Sebring in a Ferrari 860.

Gregory won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1965, racing for the North American Racing Team in a Ferrari 250 LM along with co-drivers, Jochen Rindt and Ed Hugus. It appears he swapped the leather strap on his Datejust for a Oyster bracelet and was wearing the watch when he won the race.

Lloyd Ruby


Lloyd Ruby raced in the USAC Championship Car series for 20 years. He had 88 top-10 finishes and won 7 races. He was also successful in endurance races, winning the 24 Hours of Daytona twice, as well as the 1966 12 Hours of Sebring and the 1966 World Sportscar Championship. His regular co-driver for these longer races, was British-born American racer, Ken Miles, who played a key role in developing the Ford GT-40.

In 1964, the Daytona Continental race was increased to 2000 kilometers in length. 1965 marked the last race in this format before the Continental became the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1966.

The photo below shows Ruby and Miles receiving Rolex watches after claiming victory at the 1965 Daytona Continental.

Now you would think they would be given the Daytona chronograph, but they received a completely different model!  The pictures above and below shows both men receiving the Reference 6541 Milgauss with a smooth bezel. The Rolex Milgauss was created for people working in environments with strong magnetic fields, such as engineers and scientists. 

Ruby and Miles also won the first 24 Hours of Daytona in 1966. Nick from Ad Patina sent-in these images of Ruby and Miles receiving their Rolex watches, the day after their win. It's interesting to note they were not given Daytonas.

The issuing of a Milgauss to the winner was not a one time event, as we have proof that the Milgauss was gifted to the winner of the 1963 Daytona Continental, Mexican racing driver Pedro Rodriguez. The photographs below show him receiving his Rolex Milgauss model and wearing it while posing for the camera.

I could not find any photographs of Miles later wearing his Milgauss, but Lloyd Ruby wore his watch after receiving it as these photographs from 1965 and 1966 show. 

The photograph below shows Ruby holding a newspaper wishing him good luck for the 1966 Indianapolis 500, while wearing his Rolex Milgauss.

In 2002, Ruby attended the Detroit Motor Show and he still had his Milgauss! The dial of the watch had turned to a tropical brown color.

Pete Hamilton


Pete Hamilton raced in the NASCAR series for six years, achieving four wins including a win at the Daytona 500 in 1970. Hamilton had two Rolex reference 6239 Daytonas both with “Paul Newman” dials. From analyzing the photos, he received his first Daytona for winning the 1970 Daytona 500, as he was not wearing a watch for pre-race photographs. The watch came with a black dial with white sub-dials on an Oyster bracelet.

In the second photo from 1971 we see Hamilton looking under the hood of a race car wearing another 6239 Daytona, this time on a leather strap with a white dial and black sub-dials.

A. J. Foyt

The King of Racing

A.J Foyt is a legendary driver who won five USAC National championships and also holds the record for most victories in the USAC with 159 wins! Foyt is the team owner of A.J. Foyt Enteprises which races in the Indy Car series. Foyt is the only driver in history to have won the Indianapolis 500, The 24 Hours of Daytona and the 24 Hours of Le Mans! We see A.J. Foyt in the photo below from the June of 1964 cover of Sports Illustrated. This photo was take just before he raced in and won the Indianapolis 500. 

At the 1966 Los Angeles Times Grand Prix held at the Riverside International Raceway, we see Foyt wearing his 6239 Daytona with a silver dial and black sub-dials on a Jubilee bracelet. 

Fast-forward to the 1970 Daytona 500 and we see Foyt wearing the same Rolex Daytona, but back on its Oyster bracelet. 

Below we see a Rolex magazine ad from 1974, featuring A.J. Foyt being celebrated in a Day-Date ad.

At the 1988 Daytona 500, Foyt was sporting a yellow gold GMT-Master on a Jubilee bracelet.

Lee Roy Yarbrough


Lee Roy Yarbrough was a NASCAR driver, who competed in 198 races, with fourteen wins and 92 finishes in the Top 10. Some of his most notable wins include the 1969 Daytona 500 and the Firecracker 400 also held at Daytona raceway.

In the photo below we see LeeRoy Yarbrough celebrating in the victory lane after winning the Daytona 500 on February 23, 1969 at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. We can see clearly on his wrist, a Rolex Daytona [Reference 6239] with black dial and white sub-dials on a leather strap.

On the 4th of July 1969, Yarbrough claimed victory in the Firecracker 400 at Daytona, and his prize was a Rolex Daytona 6239, with a Paul Newman dial, featuring a black dial with white sub-dials. In the photograph we see Yarbrough’s wife holding the watch in its box.

In this photo from the same period we see Lee Roy Yarbrough chatting to fellow driver Cale Yarborough and we can see the 6239 Daytona with Newman dial on Yarbrough's wrist.

Bobby Isaac


Bobby Isaac was the 1970 champion of NASCAR Grand National Series. During his career he won, 37 races, including 11 races during his victorious 1970 season. 

In addition to NASCAR, Isaac set 28 world speed records on the famous Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, some which still stand today. 

Bobby Isaac at the Bonneville Salt Flats, wearing his Rolex Daytona and Converse All Stars

Isaac was posthumously honored as of one NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers in 1998. When it comes to Rolex, Isaac wore a silver dialed 6239 Daytona on a bundstrap, like Paul Newman. He is pictured below leaning on a set of tires and his Daytona clearly visible.

In addition to his Rolex Daytona, Issac also wore a Rolex Datejust on Jubilee bracelet as seen below.

In the next photo we see Isaac talking to his friend David Pearson, who was the 1966, 1968, 1969 NASCAR Grand National Series Champion. On the wrist of Pearson is a reference 6238 chronograph, the father of the 6239 Daytona. This is the first photo I’ve seen of someone wearing a reference 6238.

 Fireball Roberts


Edward Glenn "Fireball" Roberts was a NASCAR driver, who raced in a total of 206 Grand National races. He won 33 times and had 32 pole positions. His notable race wins include the 1962 Daytona 500 and Firecracker 250 and the 1958 and 1963 Southern 500. Roberts wore two Rolex models. The first was a time only Oyster Perpetual Zephyr. 

Roberts also owned a smooth bezel 6541 Milgauss, which he most likely got for winning the 1962 Daytona 500.

I found a Rolex advertisement from 1962/63, for the Rolex Zephyr featuring Roberts. The interesting thing about the advertisement is Roberts is sporting his Milgauss in the photo. To my knowledge this is the earliest ad featuring someone wearing a Milgauss in print.  A big thank you to Nick of Ad Patina for sending me this ad.

Carroll Shelby


Carroll Shelby was a former racing driver, who went on to become a successful car designer and was responsible for creating the Shelby AC Cobra, helping to perfect the Ford GT-40 which beat Ferrari at Le Mans in 1966, and is the subject of the hit 2019 film Ford v Ferrari and for developing the Shelby Mustang GT-350 and GT-500. His most notable win as a racing driver was the 1959 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.  Shelby won the race, while wearing a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Zephyr. 

In a colour photo taken for Sports Illustrated in 1959, we see Shelby sporting his two-tone Rolex Zephyr.

Dale Earnhardt Sr.


Dale Earnhardt is regarded as one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history. Earnhardt was the son of Ralph Earndardt, who was the 1956 winner NASCAR Sportsman Championship.

Nicknamed "The Indimidator" for his aggressive driving style, Earnhardt won a total of seven NASCAR Winston Cup championships and a total 76 Winston Cup races, including the 1998 Daytona 500.

Earnhardt wore two Rolex models and wore them on his wrist while racing! The first watch was the evergreen Rolex Submariner. You can see it clearly on Earnhardt's wrist after he won the 1990 Winston All Star Race, in which he became the first repeat winner of the event.

Dale Earnhardt also wore a stainless steel Oysterquartz, which he wore on his wrist, when he won the 1990 Atlanta 500 and clinched the Winston Cup championship.

Mario Andretti

Mario Andretti is a true American racing legend. Andretti is one of two drivers to have won races in Formula One, IndyCar, World Sportscar Championship and NASCAR.  Andretti won the 1978 Formula One World Championship and is the only driver to date to win the Formula One World Championship, Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500.  In Hodinkee's Talking Watches episode with Andretti, his stainless steel 6239 Daytona is shown but he couldn't remember how he got it.

I found a photo of Andretti, wearing his Daytona while chatting to fellow driver Chris Amon (Who also had a 6239 Daytona). I'm very certain it's the same Rolex Daytona on his wrist from the video. There is also the distinct possibility that Andretti's Daytona was the first Daytona awarded to a driver for winning the 1967 Daytona 500.

The screenshot below is from Hodinkee's interview and shows Mario Andretti's Rolex Daytona and Day-Date. 

I assume Mario Andretti's yellow gold Rolex Day-Date pictured above is the same one pictured below in the 1976 Mario Andretti Rolex Day-Date Ad, which is very cool.

 Cale Yarborough

Cale Yarborough is one of only two drivers in NASCAR history to win three consectutive championships. He won the Daytona 500 four times, in 1968, 1977 and back-to-back in 1983 and 1984. He won the Firecracker 400 at Daytona a total of four times as well, in 1967, 1968, 1976 and 1981.

Yarborough has a few Rolex watches that he has been photographed with. The first is a Rolex Oyster Zephyr on leather strap

Yarborough is pictured below after his win at the 1968 Daytona 500. Notice the green Rolex box next to his trophy on the hood of the car.

Yarborough won the 1968 Firecracker 400 at Daytona, and is pictured below drinking from a bottle of orange juice while wearing a Rolex Daytona on Oyster Bracelet.

At the 1986 Daytona 500, Yarborough sported a yellow gold Rolex Day-Date on president bracelet.

Stan Barrett

The next driver featured is Stan Barrett, who had a very special friendship with the man whose name is synonymous with the Rolex 6239 Daytona, the legendary actor, philanthropist and racing driver Paul Newman.

Stan Barrett is a retired Hollywood stuntman, stock car racer and is currently a stunt coordinator consultant. He was Paul Newman’s stunt double in many films and the two became the closet of friends, which Jake has documented previously in this detailed article on Barrett.

Newman gave Barrett his own personal Rolex Daytona reference 6262, as a gift for good luck for Barrett attempting to become the first man to break the speed of sound on land at Edwards Air Force base in 1979, which he successfully achieved! The Rolex GMT-Master on Barret's wrist was also a gift from Newman.

Barrett raced in 19 NASCAR Winston Cup races from 1980-1990, in between his commitments as a Hollywood stuntman. He gave his 6262 Daytona to his son Stanton Barret; whose godfather was Paul Newman. Stanton followed in his father’s footsteps and became a Hollywood stuntman and NASCAR driver as well.

Here is a picture of Stanton Barrett, Paul Newman and Richard Petty at the premiere of the animated film Cars in which Paul Newman voiced the character Doc Hudson.

Richard Petty

The King

Richard Petty is nicknamed "The King" of Racing. He won the Daytona 500 a record 7 times, as well as Nascar 7 times, along with 200 unfathomable other NASCAR races during his career! Petty is considered by many to be the the greatest NASCAR driver in history and today he is 84 years young. Richard Petty represents a key part of NASCAR history, and you can learn much more about this rich history by reading Jake's story titled, "The Complete History Of The ROLEX DAYTONA."

In the photo below we see Richard Petty leading the pack at the 1967 Daytona 500 NASCAR Cup Race on the Daytona International Speedway. 1967 was arguably Richard Petty's best year as he dominated while driving his 1966 Plymouth Belvedere. In 1967, Richard Petty won 27 of the 48 races be started in, which means he won more than 50% of the NASCAR races, which included ten consecutive wins!

After winning the 1971 Daytona 500 we see Richard Petty celebrating with his family.  Note the green Rolex box his wife is holding in her hand.

At the 1975 Firecracker 400, we see A.J. Foyt chatting with Richard Petty. Foyt is wearing a Rolex Day-Date in 18ct yellow gold.

Richard Petty's father was also a racer named Lee Petty who won the Daytona 500 in 1959 and was also a 3 time NASCAR winner. Richard Petty is pictured above and below wearing his trademark stainless Rolex Daytona with the black dial. It is hard to find photos of Richard's Daytona, because, like Astronaut John Glenn, he wears his Rolex flipped around backwards on his wrist.

To quote the Rolling Stones lyrics: "You can't always get what you want, But if you try sometime you find, You get what you need". I just found a picture of Petty sporting his steel Rolex Daytona with a crisp view of the dial and bezel.

Paul Newman


An article on US racing drivers and Rolex would not be complete without mentioning Paul Newman, the man whose name is now attached to the reference Rolex Daytona Reference 6239, and who had his own special connection to the Daytona Speedway.  

In 1977 Paul Newman competed in the 24 Hours of Daytona and came in fifth place racing a 
Ferrari 365 GTB/4 with co-drivers Elliot Forbes-Robinson and Milt Minter. Newman raced with his now iconic 6239 Daytona on his wrist.

Weaving his name further into the Daytona legend, Newman and his team finished third at the 1995 24 Hours of Daytona and finished in first place in their respective GTS-1 Class. Paul Newman driving during his team's Ford Mustang (Car No 70) during the race.

Paul Newman on the podium holding the GTS-1 best in class trophy, at the 1995 24 Hours of Daytona.

For coming first in his class, Newman received a Reference 16520 Daytona with a white dial. In 1999, Newman donated the reference 16520 Daytona to the Antiquorum charity celebrity watch auction titled Famous Faces where It sold for USD $39,000. 

Paul Newman wearing his reference 16520 Daytona

This particular white dial modern Rolex Daytona is still in the possession of the Newman family today, which means Newman most likely bought his own watch back at the auction!?!! The interesting thing is in the description of the watch, Antiquorum mentions the engraved details on the back but didn't provide a photograph.

This photo below appears courtesy of my friend Charles Tearle, shows the engraved back of Newman's 16520 Daytona. Charles was the first person to photograph the engraved backs of Newman's 6263 and 116519 Daytonas, which were gifted to him by his wife Joanne Woodward.

Steve McQueen


No article on racing drivers and Rolex, would be complete without the King of Cool, Steve McQueen who was an avid racing driver and is the earliest person to wear a Rolex Submariner while racing, which he did at the 1970 12 Hours of Sebring, where he came in 2nd place—which is even more remarkable considering he drove with broken foot.


Steve McQueen went on to make the iconic 1971 racing film Le Mans, which was his tribute to motor racing.

William "Bill" France


Founder of NASCAR

William France Sr., is a key character in the history of the Rolex Daytona and he is pictured below in the Rolex NASCAR ad from 1960. 

William France Rolex Zephyr Ad from 1960 pictured above 

William France grew up in Maryland and when he was a kid, did not attend school, instead he raced laps in his family Model T Ford.

Other Drivers wearing Rolex

Other drivers from around the world, have sported Rolex watches for winning at Daytona and other races.

Vic Elford

Englisman Vic Elford is a former professional racing driver who raced in Formula One, Sportscar Racing and Rally. He won the 1968 24 Hours of Daytona in a Porsche 907, the 1968 Targa Florio also in a Porsche 907 and the 1971 12 Hours Of Sebring in a Porsche 917.

For winning the 1968 24 Hours of Daytona, Elford was awarded a Rolex Daytona reference 6239.  Elford also drove in Steve McQueen's film Le Mans

Jackie Stewart is a Scottish born, three time Formula One World Champion and has been a Rolex Testominee since 1968.

Pictured below is Jackie Stewart talking to Paul Newman. Stewart is wearing his Rolex GMT-Master.

After retiring from motor racing, Stewart was a commentator for ABC's Wide World of Sports for a period of time and in the picture below, he is interviewing Richard Petty.

Michael Schumacher

Michael Schumacher is a German Formula One driver, who has won a record 7 Formula One World Championships and most races won in a single season.

Schumacher is pictured below in 1993 wearing his stainless steel reference 16520 Daytona.

The Rolex Daytona

Mysterious 1967 Rolex Daytona Ad

Nick from sent in this 1967 Rolex Daytona ad which features a mystery that I discovered and pointed out to Jake. The mysterious detail is the Rolex chronograph in the ad below lacks a tachymeter scale on the bezel or dial, which contradicts the text description which reads:

"The Rolex Daytona Chronograph is for pinning down your lap time to a fifth of a second. It has second, minute and hour stop-recorders as well as a small continuous second hand and tachometer engraving on the bezel."

Jake reached out to leading Rolex vintage dealer Eric Ku from who said: 

"It's NOT a mistake. There is a batch of late Rolex Reference 6238 models with that same configuration. Late production 6238 cases that were well into production range of 6239 (1.2 Million or later Reference 6238 sometimes come like this).

In 1965, Rolex formally introduced the Rolex Chronograph as seen in the ad below.

1970 Rolex Daytona Cosmograph Brochure

Bonus Feature No 1
Red Line 7000

I have known about a Rolex Daytona Reference 6239 featured in the racing film Red Line 7000 starring James Caan, but I was not aware that Rolex knew about the watch featured in the film. Actor Norman Alden sports the Daytona in the film.

I recently discovered the image below which shows Rolex had prepared counter cards to be displayed in movie theaters and retailers that sold Rolex watches, to promote the Daytona appearing in the film! 

This is the second time I can recall seeing Rolex actively advertising their watch appearing in a film, with the first time being the poster showing Sean Connery wearing a Submariner in Thunderball.

Bonus Feature No 2 
Rolex Cosmograph Ad from Japan

This Rolex advertisement from Japan, shows how the Rolex Daytona has worldwide appeal and how the Crown went about marketing the watch to the Asian market in the 1970's.