“Ask any driver here what they’re looking for, and it’s one of these,” says the champion racecar driver Scott Pruett showing off one of the Rolex watches he owns as a multiple winner of the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona. “As great as trophies are, there is nothing quite as special as this.”
The watch he means is the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona. Launched in 1963, the Cosmograph Daytona was designed to be a high-precision timing tool for endurance racing that measures intervals within one-eighth of a second and has a tachymetric scale for calculating average speeds. Now it is awarded to winners of the race, which Rolex first sponsored in 1992.
“I still literally get goose bumps every time I come here,” says Pruett at this year’s race. He retired after his 25th entrance in the race this year (also the 25th anniversary of Rolex’s sponsorship). Pruett shares the record for five victories in the famed endurance race with racing legend Hurley Haywood and has quite a few watches to show for it.
Rolex has a far-reaching legacy at Daytona International Speedway, a cathedral of motorsport. Next to the track in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, you can see Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Blue Bird V, which Campbell piloted on the hard-packed coquina sands of Daytona Beach to claim the world speed record in 1935. The 28-foot, 2,300 horsepower machine hit more than 330 mph as Campbell averaged 276.816 mph, while wearing a Rolex Oyster. The run established Daytona as the place where drivers come to “haul ass,” in the words of Pruett.
The most famous Rolex Daytona was worn by Paul Newman, better known as an actor, but skilled enough to win his class at the 1995 24 Hours of Daytona at the age of 70. He acquired the watch, however, in 1969 as a gift from his wife, actress Joanne Woodward, at a time when his enthusiasm for racing was dawning. The inscription read: Drive Carefully Me. Newman was so often photographed wearing the watch, with its creamy dial and black sub-counters (known as a panda dial) that the highly coveted model was dubbed The Paul Newman. His personal Daytona, a present to his daughter Nell’s boyfriend James Cox in the early 1980s, recently fell under the hammer for $15.5 million ($17.8 million including fees) at a Phillip’s auction in New York last October, smashing the record for the most expensive wristwatch ever sold.
Less storied versions of the winner’s watch can be had for $16,900 (the rare entry-level watch is $12,400). Unlike Pruett’s, the back of yours won’t be engraved with the word “winner.”