How a watch company became synonymous with sports-car racing

Cameron Neveu

After the checkered flag dropped on 2023’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, it was the Meyer Shank Racing Acura GTP racer in victory lane. The team of four drivers, in their pink driving suits, hooted and howled on top of the podium. Then, they donned a matching set of Swiss watches.

Every year, Rolex awards its Oyster Perpetual Cosmographs to the victors of the Florida endurance race. This year, Helio Castroneves won his third Rolex 24. If the Brazilian driver ever wanted to open his own watch shop, he certainly has the inventory. Castroneves, despite his recent victories, does not hold the record for most Rolex 24 wins. Scott Pruett and Hurley Haywood hold the title for most overall triumphs at five.

Rolex 24 at Daytona Castroneves
Helio and the Meyer Shank team. James Gilbert/Getty Images

Much in the vein of warm Indy 500 milk, Daytona’s unique tradition dates back to the primordial years of the famous race.

Flash back to 1959. Daytona International Speedway was a newly minted racing facility featuring steep banks and broad turns, a layout that allowed hopped-up sedans and business coupes to seemingly fly around the 2.5-mile tri-oval. The France family, led by patriarch Bill Sr, welcomed racing’s best to its landmark race course. It also greeted a new sponsor: Rolex.

On paper, a partnership between America’s first racing family and a British-founded Swiss watch company might seem odd. In reality, the prestige of each partner elevated that of the other. To commemorate the relationship, starting in 1966, Rolex inscribed the speedway’s moniker—Daytona—into the dial of each Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph.

Over the next three decades, Rolex bolstered its relationship with auto racing. In 1968, the company worked closely with three-time Formula 1 champion Jackie Stewart.

IMSA Rolex 24 Daytona 2023 night
Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Then, in 1992, Rolex fortified its bond with the famous Florida speedway and became the title sponsor of Daytona’s 24-hour endurance race. The company that originally partnered with the burgeoning facility in the late 1950s returned as the sponsor of professional sports-car racing’s longest stateside soirée.

For two circuits of the chronograph’s needle, drivers compete on Daytona’s 3.56-mile road course. Sticking with the enduro theme, Rolex also partners with another 24-hour motorsports contest: The company is the official timepiece of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Whether in America or overseas, in the race against time, it’s only fitting that a Swiss watch be awarded to the winners.

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