Every race has a prize, but no other race has a prize quite like the one given to winners of the Rolex 24 at Daytona — just ask anyone who’s taken part in this legendary 24-hour contest. “Having raced there on many occasions, the excitement never grows old,” says Scott Pruett, the former NASCAR driver who won the race five times between 1994 and 2013. “Reliving the legacies that looped this track, I keep coming back to the Champion’s Creed: ‘It’s all about the watch.’”
While other races reward winners with cups, trophies, and bragging rights, the Rolex 24 at Daytona lives up to its name at the finish line, rewarding each year’s champion drivers with their own custom-engraved Rolex Cosmograph Daytona chronograph. (There’s a trophy, too, but it doesn’t get nearly as much attention.) It’s part of a tradition that goes back nearly a century, and a story of one of the most enduring partnerships in motorsport.
The first 24-hour race at Daytona was held in 1962, but Daytona had already been attracting thrill-seeking drivers and their high-speed machines for decades. Thanks to its long stretch of hard-packed beach sand — a perfect natural drag strip — Daytona attracted gentleman racers from around the world who were in pursuit of ever-faster land speed records. Foremost among them was Sir Malcolm Campbell, who hit 330 miles per hour on the beach in 1935 behind the wheel of the Bluebird, an experimental 2,300 brake horsepower speed machine powered by an airplane engine. Campbell would go on to praise his watch, a Rolex Oyster, which kept perfect time throughout.
By the late 1950s, with motorsports enjoying unprecedented popularity in the United States and around the world, the time had come to build a permanent home for racing at Daytona. While the previous track had been an informal affair composed of beach sand and a stretch of dirt road with wooden grandstands for spectators, the new track would be a state-of-the-art oval whose banked corners would allow for higher speeds and excellent sightlines for thousands of race fans. When it was com- pleted in 1959, the Daytona International Speedway was the fastest racing circuit in the United States, and one of the first Super Speedways in the world.
The Rolex Cosmograph was released in 1963, a year after the first 24-hour race at Daytona. Designed with motorsports in mind, the Cosmograph featured an especially legible black and white chronograph dial and a tachymeter-scale bezel for calculating speed. Rolex had previously given a watch to champions at Daytona, but the Cosmograph’s cutting-edge design, bold looks, and superlative accuracy added a new layer of appeal to a spot on the winners’ podium. Within a few years, the Rolex Cosmograph was officially renamed the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, and a legend was born.
The rules of the Rolex 24 at Daytona have evolved over the decades — as have the cars themselves — but the essential facts of the contest remain unchanged. Teams of drivers must push themselves and their vehicles to the limit as they race around the clock for 24 hours straight, battling darkness, foul weather, fatigue, and each other. With a total length approximately equal to a drive from New York to Los Angeles, and an average speed of 305 km/h, the Rolex 24 at Daytona has been the backdrop to dramatic showdowns throughout its history, from the legendary Ford vs. Ferrari contests of the 1960s to upsets by Jaguar and Nissan in the ’80s and ’90s, to the Dodge Viper’s surprise overall win in 2000.
Rolex took over exclusive naming rights to the race in 1992, cementing a relationship going back to the days of Sir Malcolm Campbell and the Bluebird. In 2022, the 60th edition of the Rolex 24 at Daytona saw more than 60 vehicles take to the track, from Porsche 911 GT3 Rs and BMW M4 GT3s to 600-hp DPi (Daytona Prototype International) race cars from Acura and Cadillac. After a full 24 hours of flat-out racing, Brazilian driver Helio Castroneves and his three teammates at Meyer Shank Racing stood on the winners’ podium to receive their accolades — and four engraved Rolex Cosmograph Daytonas. “When we accomplish something as we did today, it’s priceless,” Castroneves said. “You push as hard as you can to win that Rolex.”
Named after the legendary actor and racing driver, the Rolex “Paul Newman” Daytona is a special edition Daytona known for its unique dial. It’s widely regarded as one of the world’s most coveted vintage watches, so much so that one particularly deep-pocketed collector shelled out $17.8 million for one back in 2017.