A deep look at the Harley J. Earl trophy and who he is

The 64th edition of the Daytona 500 was won by Austin Cindric and in victory lane he hoisted the Harley J. Earl replica* trophy above his head as every winner has done since 1998. The first question is who is Harley J. Earl? The second is what is his connection to the small block chevy engine used by every Chevrolet race car that raced in this year’s Daytona 500?

Harley Jarvis Earl (November 22, 1893-April 10, 1969) was General Motors General Styling Chief from 1927 until 1958 when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 65. He worked for his father J.W. Earl who was an automotive coach builder and owner of Earl Automotive Works. They were bought by a Cadillac dealer and Earl was kept on as the director of its custom body shop. Lawrence P. Fisher, the general manager of the Cadillac division of General Motors, was visiting the dealership where he met Earl. He was so impressed with Earl’s designs and methods that he asked Earl to design the 1927 LaSalle, a companion automobile to the Cadillac.

Alfred P. Sloan, the President of General Motors, was so impressed that in 1927 he created the “Art and Color Section” of General Motors and named Earl as its first director. In 1937 the “Art and Color Section” became the Styling Section and Earl was promoted to Vice President. There he remained in authority until his retirement in 1958. Before his retirement General Motors became the largest corporation in the world and automotive design was credited with its sales leadership.

He is remembered as the first Styling Chief in the United States. He was the originator of clay modeling for automobile designs, the wrap around windshield, the hardtop sedan, factory two-tone paint and tail fins.

Impressed by the English and European sports cars being raced on road courses after World War Two he decided General Motors needed to build a sports car. What started as a secret project was offered to Ed Cole the President of the Chevrolet Division of General Motors. Cole accepted and he and Earl designed the automobile that became the 1953 Corvette.

Ed Cole will also be remembered as the creator of the small block chevy engine. The small block chevy was born on May 12, 1952 and was introduced in the fall of 1954 in the newly designed 1955 Chevrolet as a 265 cubic inch V8 engine. In the spring of 1955 Bill France Sr. asked Smokey Yunick to take a job with Chevrolet to convince them to race in NASCAR. Yunick then contributed to the early development of the small block chevy engine in NASCAR. Thanks to Yunick’s continued development it is still the dominate engine in all of auto racing today.

Today the 358 cubic inch small block NASCAR engine still follows the same basic principles from 1955. NASCAR has stayed with the basic pushrod small block V8 design, but the evolution of the latest engine is that of a revised V8. NASCAR’s latest rules dictate camshaft placement, bore spacing and cylinder head-port centers. The new engines have over 50 parameters they must adhere to and they no longer have to be of stock block design. They are strictly racing engines and no longer resemble the engines that are used on the street.

Harley J. Earl was a friend of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. and he became the second commissioner of NASCAR. France named the trophy for Earl out of respect. Through 1997 the Daytona 500 winners received an approximately three foot wooden trophy adorned with silver figurines called the Harley Earl Award.

In 1998, to celebrate the 40th Daytona 500, the newly created perpetual Harley J. Earl Trophy was created. It is housed at the Daytona International Speedway and is removed once a year to appear in victory lane with the winner of the Daytona 500. It is 4 feet tall, 5 feet wide and has the same triangular shape as the Daytona International Speedway. One of Earl’s concept design’s provides the basis for a miniature silver plated turbine powered Firebird 1 that sits on top of the trophy. The Daytona 500 winning driver is presented the replica trophy which is his or hers to keep. From that day forward that winning driver will be known as a Daytona 500 champion and their life will be changed forever.

*The replica trophy weighs 54 pounds is 18 inches tall, 22inches wide and 12 inches deep. The first replica trophy was awarded to 1998 Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt.

There are two additional trophy’s awarded. The winning crew chief is awarded the Cannonball Baker Trophy named for NASCAR’s first commissioner and the winning car owner receives the Governors Cup.

Guest post by: Jim Smith

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