Every Sunday before the third Monday in February, the best race drivers in the world compete at Daytona International Speedway for one of the most prized possessions in sport, the Harley J. Earl Daytona 500 Trophy. Going unbeaten, through the entire racing season, is irrelevant to most Nascar race drivers: The only race they care about winning is where you go home with the Daytona 500 Trophy. Scroll down to see recent race winners being photographed with the Earl trophy. 

 

Harley Earl and Bill France Sr. with "The Trophy" before first Daytona 500 race 

The Daytona 500 winner's prize is one of the most beautiful trophies in the world and is unique among the "great American sports trophies" in the fact its non-traditional (doesn't look like a regular trophy!) and it is also real work of art. Harley Earl came up with the classic Firebird rocket car theme to highlight the Daytona 500 trophy and then had it hand sculpted inside his Michigan design studio during the absolute zenith of the mid-50s American auto world. Yes, the Harley J. Earl Daytona 500 Trophy is very similar to other modern art works and/or motoramic masterpieces designed by Earl. Anyone these days can see why this provenance helps give the Daytona/Earl trophy a big artistic boost over other famous sporting event trophies. For example, the Vince Lombardi NFL Super Bowl trophy and the iconic Stanley Cup were not conceived and shaped by an iconic contemporary artist. 

Bill France Sr. said the following in NASCAR NEWS after Harley Earls death, "HE KNEW CARS, for he was an artist-engineer. He knew people, for he was a man. He knew racing, for he loved the sport..." France clearly understood Earl was an important American artist. The Legends-Of-Speed page below increases awareness on why Earl's name is such a big part of today's Daytona 500 experience: 

Harley's name didn't become the moniker for perhaps the most prized possession in American motor sports (Super Bowl Trophy of NASCAR) without his making heroic achievements. Once you find out everything he did, then it's easy to realize why he's such an iconic figure. The following quote is from a 1954 article Harley wrote for the Saturday Evening Post titled, I Dream Automobiles:

"There is a touch of Oldfield and De Palma in most Americans, and frankly I wonder sometimes if there isn't a trace of the old Santa Monica race track in ever car I've ever designed."

Newest Winner of the Hottest Sport:

 

Of course there are other trophies Kenseth, Newman, Bayne, Harvick, Johnson and Gordon all want to win. Indianapolis. The Coca-Cola 600. The Southern 500. But nothing else in NASCAR carries the immediate respect of a Harley J. Earl in the trophy case. News story below is on how each year's Daytona 500 trophy is hand made for the race winner by Omaha, Nebraska sculptor John Liba. 

 

Click image below to not only read the names of the individuals seen in this historic Daytona picture (taken by famous race car photographer C.V. Haschel) above, but also to find out how Harley Earl took many of GM's most famous car brands into modern stock car racing.

Noteworthy letter and signed picture, below, from Bill France Sr. (creator of NASCAR)