Cronkite was the grand marshal for the 1959 Firecracker 250 – Daytona International Speedway’s first summer event, in the track’s first year of operation.
Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations
Walter Cronkite, known world-wide as a newsman extraordinaire, had another kind of notoriety that not everyone is aware of; he was also a racer of note.
A sports car aficionado, he co-drove winning cars for Art Riley Motors three times at Lime Rock Park – in 1957, ’58 and ’61. He competed in the 12 Hours of Sebring, in ‘59, finishing 40th in a Lancia, co-driving with fellows named Peter Baumberger and Walter Rohlfs.
And in ‘59, his skill sets merged. During a practice session, he was right behind a driver who crashed and died in an accident just short of Sebring’s infamous hairpin. Cronkite was first on the scene and took on the task of calling the driver’s family with a first-hand report, followed by heartfelt condolences. The driver’s wife fondly recalls Cronkite’s professional, yet comforting style on that phone call, to this day.
Cronkite served as the official announcer at Sebring for a number of years. He had crossover appeal, as well in the world of auto racing. He was the grand marshal for the 1959 Firecracker 250 – Daytona International Speedway’s first summer event, in the track’s first year of operation. He also drove the pace car at Daytona International Speedway, for the 1962 Daytona 500. He was a friend of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. and other NASCAR stars through the years.
There is a great video, which Cronkite made in 1961, about the allure of auto racing in general and sports car racing in particular. It includes some at-track reports and entertaining footage from the Grand Prix of Monaco. Great stuff, from a great man, who graced the sport of auto racing all too briefly.