Daytona 500 trophy named for Harley J. Earl, General Motors automobile designer, who died on this date in 1969

Harley J. Earl Trophy / Headline Surfer2017 Daytona500 winner Kurt Busch holds up the Harley J. Earl tropy
Photo for Headline Surfer / Kurt Busch, winner of the 2017 Daytona 500,  with help from his Stewart-Haas team, hold sup the Harley J. Earl Trophy.
Photo above: Courtesy Flickr / Vintage 1939, Harley J. Earl and 'The Y Job.'
YouTube download / HowStuffWorks video / Harley J. Earl is often called the Father of Modern Auto Design, but why? The hosts of this video take a closer look at Earl’s Motorama cars, from the Firebird XP-21 to the Centurion XP-301, to the Le Sabre XP-8, and more. Shot on location at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Ga. and posted on Oct 15, 2014.
 
By HENRY FREDERICK
Headline Surfer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. --  Harley J. Earl, an American automobile designer (b. 1893), died on this date: April 10, 1969.

Why is this worth noting? Because a replica of the trophy is given to the winning driver of the annual running of the Great American Race: The Daytona 500. That's why!

Earl, the second commissioner of NASCAR, was the designer of the Chevrolet Corvette; his Firebird I concept car provides the basis of the automobile that sits atop the trophy;Earl was a friend of NASCAR founder Bill France, Sr., who named the trophy after him as a sign of respect, as described in Wikipedia.

Here is a synopsis of the history of the Harley J. Earl Trophy as described by NASCAR: The road to a Daytona 500 trophy goes through Omaha, Nebraska. That is quite literal.

The most famous, coveted race-winning award is sculpted by hand in the Cornhusker State by a man named John Lajba. A NASCAR fan who just happens to be an immensely talented artist -- or perhaps it's the other way around -- Lajba lovingly crafts a replica of the Harley J. Earl trophy yearly that the winner of the "Great American Race" takes home as a keepsake.

"I think it was back in 1996 they had the permanent trophy, the Harley J. Earl, and they asked me if there was any way I could design one, based on the original trophy, that the drivers can actually have when they win the race," Lajba said. "It's evolved over the years. … I get kind of emotional about all of them."

Lajba also creates sculptures for the College World Series, which is held annually in Omaha, but there is perhaps no sport that's a better fit for his immense talents than NASCAR.

Think about it. These drivers, who navigate the historic 2.5-mile super speedway at speeds that approach 200 mph, rely on their hands on the wheel, their eyes on the road, to excel. Swap the wheel for an instrument and the road for a scale model, and it's practically the same thing.

"When you go to Daytona … there's just life in the air," Lajba said. "When you're able to create something that special … that was something to me. Boy it was just something. You think about America, you think about the 'Great American Race.' You're really proud of that."

And when he sees the victor -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2014, perhaps -- search for that memento?

"I've heard that when they win, the drivers hold onto that trophy," Lajba said. "They've very protective of it. That's their prize. That's what they come to Daytona for. I know it's their prized possession. And it was one of my prized possessions when I had it, in my little ways of building it. But now it's there's and it's part of their life."

Harley J. Earl creates the greatest American sports car: The Corvette

Influenced by the English and European sports cars being raced on road racing circuits after World War II, Harley J. Earl Earl decided that General Motors needed to make a sports car. Design work on "Project Opel" began as a secret project, according to Wikipedia. He first offered the project to Chevrolet general manager Ed Cole. Cole accepted the project without hesitation, and the car was offered to the public in 1953 as the Chevrolet Corvette.

Harley J. Earl's Corvette / Headline SurferInfluenced by the English and European sports cars being raced on road racing circuits after World War II, Harley J. Earl Earl decided that General Motors needed to make a sports car. Design work on "Project Opel" began as a secret project, according to Wikipedia. He first offered the project to Chevrolet general manager Ed Cole. Cole accepted the project without hesitation, and the car was offered to the public in 1953 as the Chevrolet Corvette.

Earl retired from General Motors in 1958, after overseeing the design of the 1959 models. He was succeeded as vice-president with responsibility for the Design and Styling Department by Bill Mitchell, under whose leadership GM design became less ornamental. Before Earl retired, General Motors became the largest corporation in the world, and design was acknowledged as the leading sales factor within the automotive industry. Harley Earl suffered a stroke and died in West Palm Beach, on April 10, 1969. He was 75 years old.

He is remembered as the first styling chief in the US auto industry, the originator of clay modeling of automotive designs, the wraparound windshield, the hardtop sedan, factory two-tone paint, and tail fins. Earl said in 1954, "My primary purpose for twenty-eight years has been to lengthen and lower the American automobile, at times in reality and always at least in appearance." The extremely low and long American cars of the 1960s and 1970s show the extent to which Earl influenced an entire industry and culture, according to Wikipedia.

Did You Know?
In a December 1999 special section in the Detroit Free Press, Harley J. Earl was ranked the third most significant Michigan artist of the 20th century, behind Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder.
 
FAST FACTS
• The Harley J. Earl Perpetual Trophy, the "official" version of the award, is housed at the Daytona International Speedway. It stands about four feet (1.2 m) tall, five feet (1.5 m) wide and is in the same triangular "tri-oval" shape of Daytona International Speedway. It's removed from its display once a year to appear in victory lane with the winner of the Daytona 500. In 2010, the trophy was removed from the Daytona International Speedway, transported to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and put on display alongside the Borg-Warner Trophy – awarded to the winner of the Indianapolis 500 – in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum during the Indianapolis 500 race week.
• Earl was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1986. One of his concept car designs, the turbine-powered Firebird I, is reproduced in miniature on the Harley J. Earl Trophy, which goes to the winner of the season-opening Daytona 500 NASCAR race.

• The most Harley Earl Awards have been won by Richard Petty, referred to as "The King" of NASCAR. Petty's seven victories lead the four Daytona 500 wins of Cale Yarborough, and three each by Bobby AllisonDale Jarrett and Jeff GordonBill ElliottSterling MarlinMichael WaltripMatt KensethJimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. have won the Daytona 500 and Harley J. Earl Trophy twice; twenty-five other drivers have been awarded the trophy once. 

Multimedia: You can watch the 2017 Daytona 500 below...

YouTube download / NASCAR video / Complete running of the 2017 Daytona 500.
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