Category: Automotive History
History of the National Association for Stock Car Racing. NASCAR stands for the National Association for Stock Car Racing. NASCAR today is a several billion dollar industry and major spectator sport.
Pre-History of NASCAR
NASCAR’s earliest beginnings are linked to Prohibition and the efforts of “runners”, fast drivers who shuttled moonshine to bars and distributors from where the stock was manufactured. These runners had to drive fast and evade federal tax agents. NASCAR’s own website suggests two books on the subject, “Driving with the Devil” and “Real NASCAR: White Lightening, Red Clay and Big Bill France”.
They frequently held races against each other, though these events were all informal. For example, there were car races to see who could hit land speed records in the 1930s. Sir Malcolm Campbell tried to set several land speed records at Daytona Beach track in 1935 and 1936 until moving to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Daytona Beach asked Bill France Sr. to organize more races at the track to replace the audiences Campbell had garnered.
After Prohibition, the races became more formal. However, gasoline rationing and other material restrictions prevented car racing from taking off until after World War 2 era rationing of gas, tires and other materials ended.
Officially a Racing Organization
NASCAR was founded and incorporated as a racing organization in February of 1948. In 1949, the first stock race was held at Charlotte Speeedway. Glenn Dunnaway finished the race first but Jim Roper won the prize after Dunnaway was disqualified. At this time, street cars were raced. It wasn’t until later that specialized race cars were used.
The American Automobile Association was a rival to NASCAR, but it preferred open wheel and open cockpit racing; this later became Indy-car racing. National Stock Car Racing Association in Georgia didn’t care about events outside of its state, so it never became a national phenomenon.
Founder of NASCAR
Willliam France Sr. was a mechanic and repair shop owner who gathered racing enthusiasts for races. Bill France wanted to see a formal organization to set rules for races and prevent fraud like the frequent theft of racing prize money. Bill France Sr. organized meetings of drivers, car owners and mechanics in 1947 to establish formal rules for auto racing and these efforts led to the founding of NASCAR.
Bill France Sr. was appointed the head of NASCAR a week after it was formally incorporated.
William France Jr., Bill France’s son, took over as president of NASCAR at his father’s retirement in 1972. William France Jr. led NASCAR until retiring in 2007.
Growth of NASCAR Racing
In 1950, the first NASCAR specific track was opened, the Darlington Raceway. Daytona International Speedway opened in 1959, now home of the Daytona 500 season opener and now one of NASCAR’s most watched races.
By 1956, NASCAR had eleven paved racetracks and 56 approved events all over the country.
Lee Petty was the winner of the first Daytona 500 race in 1959. It took almost three days to determine the winner since the race was that close.
Richard Petty, Lee Petty’s son, became the first superstar in NASCAR before retiring in 1992. Petty’s grandson Adam Kyler Petty was the first fourth generation racer in history of NASCAR before his racing death in 2000.
Expansion of NASCAR
NASCAR had its first live coverage of the Daytona 500 race from start to finish in 1979. A brawl between two of the drivers at the end of the race was broadcast on television, heightening interest in the sport.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, NASCAR spread from its mostly southern fan base to a national pastime.
There are more than 1,200 annual races at 100 NASCAR tracks in the United States. There are three national NASCAR series and four regional series.
By the 2000s, NASCAR had become international by spreading into France. There are now two international NASCAR races held each year.
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