The Rolex Daytona can trigger to thoughts in the imagination; the 24 Hour Daytona racing event and the superbly crafted watch. Beginning in 1991, Rolex became the title sponsor of the 24 Hour racing event at Daytona, and named their newly crafted model, the Dayton, after it. Winners of the race receive a watch as a prize. Other star drivers, such as Paul Newman, have also placed their own mark on the watch's history and design. Designed with racing drivers in mind, the Rolex Daytona epitomizes the spirit of the race, as well as offering features specifically for drivers.
The Rolex 24 at Daytona, also known as the 24 Hours of Daytona, is the first race of the season for the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship, and the first major automobile race of the year in the United States. This 24-hour sports car endurance race is held annually at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. Sponsored by Rolex since 1991, the race runs a 5.73 km (3.56 miles) road course. The road course combines parts of an infield road course with the NASCAR tri-oval. Unlike other courses, such as Petit Le Mans, the course does not utilize public streets, but is an entirely closed course within the speedway arena. Opening in 1959, several types of races, including a six-hour 1000 km USAC-FIA sports race, utilized the track.
The first 24 Hour event was held in 1966. Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby won this first race driving a Ford MK II. By the 1990's, however, many changes had taken place. The 24 Hour event was changed to align more with the Grand American Road Racing Association (Grand-AM) series, and thus more in line with NASCAR. The changes were an attempt to make racing less expensive. Factory teams had been driving up costs for private teams, pushing them out of racing. With Grand-AM’s NASCAR-like rules, they offered stability and cost control. For example, they banned factory teams, opening the way for private teams again, as well as banned in-season testing.
One result of this was the Daytona Prototypes (DP), which use less expensive materials and a simple aerodynamic design, but still utilize engines branded by major companies like Lexus, BMW, and Porsche.
The 24 Hour event is held during January, meaning that many star drivers are in the off-season, allowing them to participate. These star drivers feature NASCAR and Indianapolis 500 winners, such as Jeff Gordon and Buddy Rice, as well as movie and music stars, like Patrick Dempsey and Paul Newman.
Despite the long history and star appearances, the 24 Hour event can be treacherous. The 24 Hour event is the longest racing event, and often times the coldest. Though it is held in Florida, it is during the coldest parts of the winter, meaning the roads could be more treacherous, and the pit crew attempting to stay warm and nimble. The race is also mentally challenging. For many races, like NASCAR, the stands are full of cheering fans. However, at night in the cold, the drivers are left to completely motivate themselves. It is often joked that the drivers outnumber the spectators at the 24 Hour event. Despite the low numbers of fans, the race is still an important date on the international racing calendar.
As Rolex is the title sponsor of the 24 Hour event, they offer all winning drivers a steel Rolex Daytona watch. The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona is a mechanical, self-winding chronograph, inspired by race car drivers and enthusiasts. It has been manufactured since 1963, and has become a symbol of the 24 Hour event. The Rolex Dayton has been produced in three separate series since 1963. The first series offered a manual wind movement. It is one of the rarest of the Rolex Daytona series, and does not feature the Oyster screw-down winding crown and screw-down winding buttons.
The second series of Rolex Daytona has been heavily linked to Paul Newman, one of the star drivers participating in the 1972 race. Legend has it that Newman wore his Rolex Daytona every day from his racing days until his death. The second series features a Zenith ‘El Primero’ modified automatic winding movement. This movement makes the watch extremely accurate and reliable. The rarest Daytonas feature what is lovingly called the “Paul Newman” dial. The Paul Newman dials are only accurately featured on the models with reference 6239, 6241, 6262, 6263, 6264, or 6265. The differences between a normal Daytona and a “Paul Newman” Daytona can be easily overlooked by the untrained eye. A normal Daytona dial is marked at 20, 40, and 60. However, the Paul Newman dial is marked at 15, 30, 46, and 60. The Paul Newman dial also has block markers instead of lines.
The third series was introduced in 2000, and, along with the previous two series, is a certified, self-winding chronometer with chronograph functions. When the Daytona was originally introduced, it was not very popular. However, the Daytonas have now become some of the most desired collectable timepieces produced by Rolex. In 2013, a rare Rolex Dayton Ref. 6263 (a "Paul Newman" Rolex) was auctioned by Christies for 989,000 Swiss Francs (well over one million US dollars). In 2011, Rolex launched the Daytona Ref 116515. This stunning piece of craftsmanship offers a pink gold case with a monobloc ceramic bezel and ivory of chocolate dial. The 2013 version, created to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the launch of the Dayton, features a ceramic bezel combined with a fresh and new ice blue dial with brown counters, encased with a platinum case and strap.
The Rolex Daytona watch model has come to epitomize the spirit of the 24 Hour Daytona racing event. Designed with racing drivers in mind, the Daytona has become an iconic favorite of drivers, including actor Paul Newman. Whether one is a professional driver or not, the sporty look and advanced features will appeal to anyone seeking a little adventure.