Other Watchy Bits: The Rolex Daytona

The Rolex Daytona. One of the best known timepieces in motorsport history, but why? Today I will pull back the veil on this speed-inspired chronograph.

The Rolex Daytona
A collection of Rolex papers (Source)

If you’re in the watch or motorsport world, you know that the Daytona is one of the most prestigious watches named after one of the world’s most prestigious race tracks, the Daytona International Speedway. For those familiar with it by name alone, the Speedway at Daytona is famous among NASCAR enthusiasts for, among other things, the coveted Daytona 500. But before we get into the history behind the Daytona name, how did Rolex get into motorsport?


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In the early 1920s, the world was a living laboratory for Rolex. They were finding new grounds to test their watches through the worlds of water sports, aviation, expeditions, and, of course, motorcar racing. In the 1930s, Rolex would approach one of the world’s fastest drivers, Sir Malcolm Campbell, and offer to assist him in his quest for speed.

Sir Malcolm Campbell at Daytona Beach (Source)

Sir Malcolm broke the land speed record nine times from 1924 to 1935, including five efforts at Daytona Beach. On September 4th, 1935, Campbell would be in the cockpit of the Campbell-Railton Blue Bird with a Rolex on his wrist and would go to set a land speed record of 300 miles per hour ( or 485 km/h depending on where you hang your hat). After establishing his 1935 speed record, Campbell fired off a missive to Rolex which read, “I have now been using my Rolex for a while, and it is keeping perfect time under somewhat strenuous conditions.”

The Rolex Daytona
1968 ROLEX DAYTONA PAUL NEWMAN REF. 6239, STAINLESS STEEL BEZEL (Source)

From 1904-1935, fourteen world speed records had been set at Daytona Beach, including the five set by the Rolex-wearing Sir Malcolm Campbell. Due to this sequence of records, Daytona quickly became the world capital for speed. In 1959, as a result of deteriorating sand on the beach, the track was paved, and Daytona International Raceway came to fruition. The new race track became a spectacle for all motor racing and would become a crown jewel alongside tracks like Le Mans.

The Rolex Daytona
1975 Rolex Cosmograph Daytona ref. 6263 (Source)

After decades in the motorsport world, Rolex would design and release a chronograph for the driver’s driver and it quickly became an icon, the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona. Designed with endurance drivers in mind, the Daytona was rugged and robust. It was waterproof in order to withstand the sweat from a driver inside the hot cockpit for hours on end, and it featured a tachymeter around the bezel for calculating average speed.

The Rolex Daytona
Rolex Daytona ref. 116520 (Source)


The Daytona is the definition of an icon–a relic of motorsports evolution since 1963 and atop the horological chain as a “grail” for many. The history of the Daytona has made Rolex known in the motorsport world as a major sponsor in Formula One and the LeMans Prototype Series. And it’s not for nothing that the Rolex Daytona is a 1st place prize for the 24H of Daytona endurance race–a “crown jewel” in the kingdom of motorsport.

The Rolex Daytona. You might say it’s simply a matter of perfect timing.

The Rolex Daytona
The Rolex Daytona (Source)

NB: Thank you to Dan Henry for permission to use images of the Rolex Daytona from his wonderful timeline.watch. If you have never visited, you don’t know what you are missing.


About the author

Born into a family obsessed with motorsport, Tyler Frederick became enamoured with speed and beautiful cars at a young age. His love of Formula 1–and all things mechanical–eventually lead him to horology. Tyler also writes for Montres Publiques. You can follow him on Instagram.


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