DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - T. Taylor Warren has seen a lot of racing history through his camera’s viewfinder.
Warren is 82, and he has been taking photos at races for more than 60 years.
On Sunday, he’ll shoot his 50th Daytona 500. But it will be hard for him to top the picture he snapped at the end of the very first 500 in 1959.
Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp were battling side-by-side on the final lap. Petty had Beauchamp to his inside and the lapped car of Joe Weatherly to the outside.
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Warren was standing on pit road behind a knee-high barrier. Tip Davis, the editor and owner of the Daytona Beach News-Journal, was about 10 feet to Taylor’s right, also with his camera poised. As the cars flashed under the checkered flag, Warren and Davis both clicked their shutters.
Warren, who was employed by Daytona International Speedway as the track’s official photographer, headed off to shoot Victory Lane ceremonies. The only question was which driver he’d find there. Beauchamp and Petty both felt that they’d won and both were headed that way.
NASCAR decided that Beauchamp was the winner. Petty wasn’t persuaded and lodged a protest, but it was Beauchamp in all of the photos Warren took with the trophy and the beauty queens.
Warren hauled his cameras and film to 42 South Peninsula St. in Daytona, a building NASCAR president William H.G. France owned that housed NASCAR’s Daytona offices. The darkroom was there, too, and Warren set about developing the film he’d shot that day.
“I started looking through my negatives for some reason, I don’t know why,” Warren recalls. “I saw a frame from the finish and made a print. I ran it through the chemicals real quick and looked at it.”
Uh-oh, Warren thought.
“I laid it on a towel, still wet, and took it upstairs,” Warren said. Pat Purcell, NASCAR’s executive director and France’s right-hand man, was in his office.“I said, ‘Pat, we’ve got a problem,’ ” Warren said.
The photo shows Petty’s No. 42 car a hood ahead of Beauchamp’s No. 73 just a few yards short of the finish line.
“Pat looked at it for a while,” Warren said. “I took it back down and rinsed it some more and dried it off. I took it back to Pat and after that I don’t know what happened.”
What Warren did know that the next morning he found out that no official winner had been declared. Warren wasn’t lined up exactly on the start-finish line and, in his shot, the cars hadn’t actually reached that line.
France announced that NASCAR wanted to see any photographs or film of the finish so it could be certain it gave the victory in the inaugural Daytona 500 to the proper driver.
In Warren’s photo, France can be seen standing behind the catch fence just under the flag stand. You can also see a cameraman from the MovieTone newsreels atop a building just behind several rows of fans.
France wanted to see that film before making a call. He also took a look at the shot made by Tip Davis, which showed the three cars just after they’d crossed the line. Petty’s car was also clearly ahead of Beauchamp’s in that frame.
France also didn’t mind the fact that for nearly three days there was endless speculation about the finish. It kept the Daytona 500 in the headlines.
Finally, Petty was declared the winner. Beauchamp had the trophy, but Petty had stayed behind in Florida until the decision was made.
“Granddaddy just wanted the check,” Kyle Petty says.
Eventually, he got it.