The wild, weird stories of Lake Lloyd at Daytona International Speedway

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Lake Lloyd at Daytona International Speedway. (Via Yahoo Sports)
Lake Lloyd at Daytona International Speedway. (Via Yahoo Sports)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – When he raced at Daytona in 1960, Tiger Tom Pistone used to drive with a complete set of scuba gear in his car. Why? Because he was afraid of drowning in Lake Lloyd, of course.

Laugh if you want, but hey, Pistone didn’t drown. Of course, he never got anywhere close to the lake, but that's beside the point.

Nestled amid the high-banked turns, soaring grandstands, blur-fast cars, and occasionally soused patrons of Daytona International Speedway sits the 29-acre Lake Lloyd, one of NASCAR’s iconic-slash-peculiar landmarks.

Construction crews created the lake in 1958 by excavating dirt to form the banks in turns 1-2 and 3-4. The lake, named for J. Saxton Lloyd, a local Daytona notable, served as a retention pond to prevent flooding in all but the most extreme circumstances. NASCAR founder Bill France ordered the lake stocked with 65,000 fish, and that’s where the legend of Lake Lloyd began.

Stocking Lake Lloyd with fish. (Courtesy DIS)
Stocking Lake Lloyd with fish. (Courtesy DIS)

If there’s a stationary object anywhere near a race track, eventually a driver will run into it, and the lake is no exception. Tommy Irwin was the first to put a car in the lake, the year after the track opened in 1960.

Tommy Irwin's car pulled from Lake Lloyd.
Tommy Irwin's car pulled from Lake Lloyd.

Irwin’s trip to Daytona’s briny not-so-deep inspired Pistone to race with the breathing apparatus in his car, since Pistone couldn’t swim.

Fortunately, Pistone never made Lake Lloyd’s acquaintance. The same can’t be said for Bay Darnell in 1964 or Dave Stacy in 1994, who leaped an entire embankment to end up in the water:

Reinforced walls now ensure that no driver will put a car into the lake again unless they're trying really, really hard.

Oh, but it's not just cars that make their way into Lake Lloyd. One day in 1968, driver Jim Hurtubuise landed his seaplane in the lake and walked over to the garage to run that year's Daytona 500. Fellow racer Tiny Lund, who at 320 pounds was definitely not "tiny," jumped aboard for a ride home ... but the overloaded plane couldn't take off with Lund aboard.

Much more often, Lake Lloyd has hosted vehicles that are actually supposed to be there. The lake briefly hosted powerboat events until Byrne E. Taylor, a physician, was ejected from his boat during a wreck and struck by a fellow competitor's boat. Taylor died of a broken neck, and speedboat races at Daytona were no more.

More recently, Roy "Zee" Ogletree established a Guinness world record for most miles traveled by jet ski in 24 hours, circling the lake for 900 laps or 1,080 miles during the Rolex 24 in 2009. (The attention paid to Ogletree's record reportedly irritated the drivers who'd spent 24 straight hours circling the speedway.)

Today, the lake's more of a placid element, a place where drivers, fans and media can sneak off to catch a few fish. It's the site of some gimmicks like the floating golf hole pictured above, and it makes for a picturesque backdrop.

One last story, and naturally it involves Dale Earnhardt. In the '90s, the lake hosted an annual fishing tournament, and nobody was more competitive about fishing -- or, really, anything -- than Earnhardt. The Intimidator had spotted a large bass in the shallows of the lake but, over the course of several days, couldn't get it to bite.

Enter Earnhardt's best friend, Neil Bonnett. Earnhardt told Bonnett about the bass, making him promise not to catch it while Earnhardt ran a race in what is now the Xfinity Series. Bonnett didn't catch the fish; he went much further. Earnhardt had a vicious wreck in the back stretch that tore pieces off his car, and Bonnett made sure to grab the hood.

Later, Bonnett told Earnhardt he'd finally figured out how to catch the fish. He took an excited Dale out to the spot where they'd seen the bass. Earnhardt peered into the water, then burst out in surprise: "What the [censored]?"

There was the bass, circling lazily right over Earnhardt's hood, which Bonnett had dumped in the waters of Lake Lloyd.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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