ATLANTA – The annual Daytona 500 race in Daytona Beach, Fla., heralds the start of the NASCAR Cup Series. In 1950, nearly a decade before the construction of Daytona International Speedway, the Daytona racecourse consisted of a 4.2-mile loop of road and beach. The combination of road and sandy terrain was challenging to even the most experienced drivers. Nevertheless, Capt. Harold Kite of the Georgia Army National Guard not only won the race in 1950, he set a speed record.
Kite was born in East Point, Ga., Nov. 21, 1921. After graduating from Atlanta’s Commercial High School in 1939, he went to work as a clerk for the U.S. Army at Fort McPherson. Kite enlisted June 10, 1942 and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant Jan. 23 the following year. Assigned to the 1st Armored Division, he was wounded in action during the beach landings near Anzio, Italy, in January 1944. Returning to duty, he continued to serve in the Italian campaign. He was promoted to 1st lieutenant Oct. 7, 1944. Discharged as a captain in 1946, Kite joined the Georgia National Guard in May 1947 as a 1st lieutenant and executive officer of the newly formed 201st Ordnance Medium Maintenance Company. He took command of the 201st and was promoted to captain in November 1948.
Kite began racing on Atlanta tracks near the armory of the 201st. In 1948 and 1949 he competed in the modified division race on the beach in Daytona.
Kite entered the 1950 Daytona stock car race with a 1949 Lincoln. The field included more than 40 cars from 14 states driven by racing legends such as the Flock Brothers, Ed “Fireball” Roberts and Bob “Red” Byron, who won the Daytona race the previous year. Nearly 10,000 spectators lined the roads and dunes to watch the race unfold over 48 laps and 200 miles. Kite took an early lead, roaring to the head of the pack with Byron close behind. Hitting a patch of soft sand 14 laps into the race, Kite’s Lincoln skidded briefly but it was enough for Byron to take advantage and capture the lead. Byron led the race for 10 laps before pitting due to transmission trouble.
Byron’s engine misfortune allowed Kite to retake and hold the lead for the rest of the race. He took the checkered flag in a record time of 2 hours, 26 minutes, 30 seconds, for an average speed of 81.75 miles per hour. Kite finished nearly one minute ahead of Byron, who captured second place. Incredibly, Byron’s brakes failed and he finished 175 miles of the race using only the emergency brakes to slow his car in turns.
For his efforts, Kite received a trophy and $1,500 in prize money.
Kite remained in the Georgia National Guard for a decade after his win at Daytona. In 1965, after a nine-year hiatus from Cup racing, Kite entered the National 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway Oct. 17, 1965. On the second lap, Kite was seriously injured in a multicar wreck. Medical personnel rushed to his aid, but he died. He was 43 years old.
In 2011, Kite was inducted into the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.