Column: Albert Lea’s Sig Haugdahl and the Daytona 250 car race

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 7, 2002

No, that’s not an error in the headline for this column. There really was a Daytona 250-mile auto race. In fact, there were two of these races. And the man who was responsible for their creation was a former Albert Lea resident named Sigurd &uot;Sig&uot; Haugdahl.

In the past I’ve had some difficulty finding information about this Norwegian-American who was the first automobile driver in history to achieve the three-miles-a-minute speed record in 1922 on the long beach at Daytona Beach, Fla. However, with the help of the Freeborn County Historical Society archives, I’ve managed to create a few articles (with photos) in the past based on Sig’s career, plus last weeks’ column.

Now, thanks to the new &uot;Daytona&uot; book by Ed Hinton (Warner Books 2001), I’ve discovered another facet about Sig’s life as an auto racer, and even as a race promoter.

Email newsletter signup

Daytona Beach has a 23-mile long, 500-foot wide hard sand beach (at low tide) which was popular with auto racers for about three or four decades.

By late 1935, Haugdahl had made a permanent move from Albert Lea to Florida. He was operating a small garage in Daytona Beach. The city officials that fall wanted to have a beach car race which would help to revive the local economy during those Depression years. Hinton says those officials called on &uot;the most prominent racer in town for advice.&uot;

Sig and another auto racer named Bill France Sr. set up a 250-mile course which was based on the beach and nearby U.S. Highway A1A. In a way, Sig may have been responsible for being the first person to try to take car racing away from the beach to another part of town.

What I’m calling the Daytona 250 took place in February 1936 and was a financial failure. The City of Daytona Beach lost $22,000 on this adventure.

France and Haugdahl promoted another race in 1937 on the same course. They talked the Daytona Beach Elks Club into becoming the sponsors. This second Daytona 250 also lost money.

Hinton’s book didn’t indicate if Sig actually drove a car in either race. France, his co-promoter, drove in both of the Daytona 250 races.

After these two car races, Hinton’s book says Haugdahl went back to his garage business. Big Bill France (Sr.) continued to promote auto racing all over the South and became the founder and &uot;czar&uot; of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) in 1947.

Right about here let’s update what happened to beach car racing in this Florida city. As Daytona Beach developed to become a vacation destination and retirement community, the combination of speeding cars and people enjoying the beach created a real conflict. As a result, the speed demons soon shifted their focus to the Bonneville Salt Flats near Wendover, Utah.

Today, this city has the famous Daytona International Speedway and the Daytona 500 races (since 1959). According

to one of the Mobil travel guides, &uot;Autos are still allowed on certain sections of the beach (daytime hours only), but the speed limit is 10 mph.&uot;

As I looked through Hinton’s book, I found several references to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala. (location of the equally famous Talladega Superspeedway).

Could Sigurd &uot;Sig&uot; Haugdahl be one of the names in this hall of fame? The nice lady I talked to said there are about a hundred names in this particular hall of fame. Unfortunately, the pioneer automobile racer who once lived in Albert Lea isn’t one of them, yet.

Information I obtained from the Florida Office of Vital Statistics in 1970 shows that Sig died on Feb. 4, 1970, in Jacksonville, and is buried in the city’s Evergreen Cemetery. His final resting place is about 90 miles north of the place where Sig became the first person in history to drive a car at the speed of three miles a minute.

Tribune feature writer Ed Shannon’s column appears Fridays in the Tribune.