NASCAR history can trace its roots back to 1794. That’s a century before the invention of the automobile, but it was the year of the Whiskey Rebellion. This was a protest of a federal tax on whiskey by frontier farmers. Instead of being subject to the tax, many frontiersmen built secret stills, manufactured, and delivered their product in secret. Most people do not know that this is the true origin of NASCAR history. During the Prohibition era of the 1920’s and early 30’s, the undercover business of moonshine running began to boom. The common term for moonshine runners was bootlegger.
Bootleggers were men who illegally ran whiskey from hidden stills to hundreds of markets across the Southeast. Driving at high speeds at night was dangerous. The penalty for losing the race was jail or loss of life. As bootlegging boomed, the drivers began to race among themselves to see who had the fastest cars. The races were held on Sunday afternoons and then the cars were used to haul moonshine later that night. As you might expect, people came to see the races, and racing moonshine cars became extremely popular in the back roads of the South. In the summer of 1938 a man named William H. G. Bill” France organized a race on the wide, firm sands of Daytona Beach, Florida. The winner received such items as a bottle of rum, a box of cigars, and a case of motor oil. NASCAR history had begun. France knew for stock car racing to grow, an official organization had to exist. The outbreak of World War II brought stock car racing to a halt. The drivers went to war and the production of new cars ceased. At the end of the war, some drivers came back and ran occasional, random races at places like the beach at Daytona. By 1947, Bill France realized it was time for a national sanctioning body to govern stock car racing.
On December 12th, 1947 France gathered promoters from the Southeast, Northeast, and Midwest. Over the next three days rules were drawn and specifications agreed upon. The name of the organization would by NASCAR- the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. The first “true” NASCAR race was held at the Charlotte (N. C. ) Fairgrounds on June 19, 1949. The division of NASCAR in which this race was held was called the “Strictly Stock” division. “The ‘Strictly Stock’ division was open to competitors who drove full-sized, American made passenger cars. The cars had to be complete with bodies, hoods, fenders, bumpers, and grilles.
The winner of that race was Glenn Dunnaway in a ’47 Ford. After the race, however, inspectors found an illegal part in the shocks of his car. The car had been used for bootlegging earlier that week, and the illegal shock wedge was used often to increase speed of bootlegging cars. Dunnaway’s car owner sued but NASCAR won the case. Jim Roper, driving a ’49 Lincoln, went down as the winner of the first ever NASCAR race. At the end of the season it was Red Byron who became NASCAR’s first ever national champion. On September 4, 1950, the concept of the “super speedway” became a reality at Darlington, South Carolina.
The first Southern 500 was held that day, on a track larger, wider, and faster than any stock car driver had ever seen before. Johnny Mantz won in a 1950 Plymouth. Through the 1950’s NASCAR began to grow. Corporate sponsors, such as Pure Oil and Champion Sparkplugs took an interest in the sport. Even the major automobile manufacturers, such as Ford, Chevrolet, and Chrysler gave “factory backing” or “sponsorship” to individual drivers. A common motto for these automobile manufacturers was “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday”. The car companies realized the potential of racing to sell cars.
In the 1950’s, NASCAR held races in such places as Municipal Stadium in Philadelphia and Soldier Field in Chicago. NASCAR faced its first major crisis when all of the automobile manufacturers pulled out of racing in May 1957 following an incident at the Martinsville (Va. ) Speedway where five people-including an 8 year old boy was hurt from flying debris from a crash. Bill France, however, managed to keep the organization functioning by convincing promoters to increase prize monies. There were other factors that helped keep NASCAR alive. One was the appearance of NASCAR’s first superstar, Glenn “Fireball” Roberts in 1958.
Roberts got his nickname from the fierce fastball he threw while playing baseball at Florida State. He won 32 races in his career. One other factor that helped bring NASCAR through its first years was the opening of the Daytona International Speedway in 1959. The track had been a dream of Bill France for many years. France risked almost everything he had on building the track over a plot of swampland four miles away from the ocean. Many people thought France was going to lose it all and thought the track was going to be a failure. However, the first Daytona 500 proved his critics all wrong.
The race had received a great deal of publicity in the weeks leading up to it; even Walter Cronkite came to cover it. Any spectator could see every part of the 2. 5 mile track from any seat in the grandstand. No one had ever seen the speeds and vicious competition that were showcased in the first Daytona 500 in 1959. In fact, after five hundred miles of racing, it took a photo finish and 61 hours to determine that Lee Petty’s Oldsmobile beat Johnny Beauchamp’s Ford by a fraction of a car length. The photo taken at the finish line is one of the most famous photos in racing history.
A surge of new tracks was being built after the opening of the Daytona track at the end of the 1950”s. The 1960 season saw the mile-and-a-half tracks come on line at Charlotte, North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia. In 1961, the half-mile oval marked the start in Bristol, Tennessee. The new mile “D” shaped North Carolina Motor Speedway opened at Rockingham in 1965. And in 1969, four more tracks came on the NASCAR line including: Dover, Delaware the mile oval; Brooklyn, Michigan two-mile track; Talladega, Alabama 2. 66-mile 33-defree banked super speedway; and College Station, Texas two-mile track.
Racing surfaces were changing, too. As the new big tracks entered the picture they came with asphalt surfaces instead of dirt. The paved tracks required different talents. Pioneers fell by the wayside and others joined the new faces for the ride on the crest of the wave of newfound popularity in the sport. In 1969, only 5 of the 54 races were held on tracks with a dirt surface. Factory backing returned and new stars emerged in the time period. Pioneer drivers retired, but were replaced with young stars like Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Bobby Allison and Donnie Allison. Other drivers were also emerging.
Ford’s “Fearless Freddy” Lorenzen and LeeRoy Yarborough are a few to add to the new list of drivers. NASCAR attracted more media attention as the decade moved along. ABC’s Wide World of Sports televised July’s Daytona race in 1961. More media attention was afforded the no-established sport of stock car racing under the NASCAR banner. Bill France’s sport was growing up. Chrysler cars showed up with the potent engines with hemispherical combustion chambers. However, when NASCAR took steps to reduce the exotic “hemi’ after the season, Chrysler withdrew its cars from NASCAR competition in 1965.
The following year Ford tried to use a limited-edition, dual, overhead cam, power plant for the races, only to have it banned. NASCAR persevered through the production of a covey of Chevrolets to replace the Chrysler and Ford products in 1965. This decade saw many safety innovations made to the sport. Mandatory shoulder harness replaced the lap belt for the driver’s safety. Roll cages were augmented to strengthen the steel cocoon surrounding the driver’s seat. Fuel cells were added to gas tanks to reduce the threat of fire.
Fire-retardant driving suits replaced the cotton shirt and duck pants worn by the speed merchants. Tire inner-liners were added to reduce wreck’s caused by blowouts. While NASCAR had seen a lot of changes in the 1960’they were nowhere near the magnitude the awaited in the 1970’s. Leadership, quantity of events, media coverage and support sources for racing teams all conveyed on the sport during the 1970’s. It seemed 1970 was off to a bad beginning in the opening years. However, tobacco giant R. J. Reynolds, entered the scene and formed a pact with ABC-TV to show some of the races, nationally.
A lot of people beginning to ease into racing were big, rich people with a lot of money and big sponsors. Junior Johnson, the noted former driver and top car owner, approached Reynolds as a potential sponsor. The firm dictated to Johnson their marketing plans and future goals. Afterwards, Johnson directed them to the NASCAR headquarters for a meeting with Bill France, Sr. Following the meeting, NASCAR’s Grand National Division was on its way to becoming the Winston Cup Series. Johnson’s team, along with other teams was able to convince additional businesses to join them as sponsors.
The convincing of consumer goods makers to put their names on cars and provide the needed funding to operate a top-line race team was aided by a television package forged on NASCAR. It became too expensive to own a car without a corporate sponsor. In 1972 Bill France, Sr. announced he was stepping down. It was also announced that the Winston Cup Grand National Division would consist of only those loner, more important races and thereafter. Instead of 44 races in 1971, there would be just 31 in the 1972 season. Billboards and special newspaper advertising placed by the tobacco firm would still support each race.
NASCAR was cruising through the 70’s and making way for the modern era. By the time the 1976 Talladega race, spectators were up to 1. 4 million. With the ever-growing popularity even the president of the United States enjoyed NASCAR racing. On September 13, 1978 President Jimmy Carter held a gala honoring NASCAR. First Lady Roselynn Carter hosted the affair with entertainment provided by Willie Nelson. This was truly a sign that NASCAR had officially arrived. The 70’s also produced one of the largest and most controversial stars of NASCAR history, Dale Earnhardt.
People loved Dale and people loved to hate him, this is one thing that drew them to the racetrack every week. They just couldn’t wait to see who he would pull the old bump and run on next! Dale came onto the Winston Cup series as a rookie in 1979 and in 1980 won his first of seven Championships. He was the first in NASCAR history to ever accomplish that. Along with the White House visit and all the new up and coming star drivers, the 1979 Daytona 500 was a turning point in national awareness and acceptance stock car racing. On Feb. 18, CBS broadcasted the first live, start-to-finish race for the United States.
By 1981 spectator counts were up to 1. 55 million and growing. Marking yet another mile stone and starting a new tradition, NASCAR meets the Waldorf=Astoria. On Friday December 4, 1981 the NASCAR Winston Cup Series banquet was held in New York City at the famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. This was a demonstration that this sport was not just an old moon-shiners sport any longer. The popularity of stockcar racing continued to rise. The sport was always looking for new talent. The new talent was often pulled from the “Late Model Sportsman” series, in 1982 renamed the “Grand National” series, better known now as the Busch Grand National series.
With only a few exceptions most of the NASCAR cup series drives have spent some time in the Busch series, sometimes they go back to pull double duty weekend for more practice on certain tracks. The Busch series also gives the tracks like Nashville and Kentucky a chance to host some good races. These smaller tracks offer the series a chance to be center stage, since the cup series does not run some of the smaller venues. Throughout the 80’s there were many memorable moments in the sport.
For instance, when RJ Reynolds offered 1 million dollars to the driver that could win three of the series top 4 races: Daytona 500, The Winston 500, Southern 500 and the World 600. In 1985 it was only Bill Elliott’s third full season when he captured the 1 million dollar prize. Bill was able to win the Daytona 500, The Winston 500 and Southern 500. That year in championship standings Bill Elliott’s second place finish paid more than Darrell Waltrips first place by almost 1 million dollars. With the 1 million dollar prize RJ Reynolds was paving the way for high dollar sponsorships.
By this time marketing and advertising departments wanted their companies to get into NASCAR. One of the largest ways to do that is sponsor a car. By 1987 companies like Proctor and Gamble wanted in on this opportunity. Proctor and Gambles Folgers Coffee and Crisco sponsorships were followed by their Tide entry into the cup series. The sport had never seen sponsors of this type before. In the past it was mostly automotive products and the RJ Reynolds Company with Winston as sponsors. Along with these new sponsorships came more money. More money only helped the sport continue to prosper into the 90’s.
By 1989 all races were being televised. The upward spiral of the sport’s popularity was not only climbing, it was doing so at an ever-accelerating rate as the 1990s came onto the horizon. The growth and expansions of NASCAR were phenomenal. New areas welcomed the sport, new stars zoomed onto the tracks, and more money poured in. However, this period was not without sadness. In 1992, the founder of NASCAR, Bill France and his wife, Ann passed away. In 1993, one year later, NASCAR was hit hard yet again by the loss of two of its greatest stars; Alan Kulwicki and Davey Allison in separate aviation accidents.
Still NASCAR kept on expanding, new superspeedways opened in Loudon, New Hampshire; Fort Worth, Texas; Fontana, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Homestead, Florida. In addition to the new facilities, every “old” track on the circuit added seats and upgraded its amenities. By the end of the decade, the Cup tour was running 34 races at 21 tracks in 17 states. Almost every area of the country had at least one race. In 1994, NASCAR decided to branch out and create another major racing series. They started racing pickup trucks. In 1995, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series was created, with Mike Skinner taking the first championship.
This series has become a breeding ground – many truck series drivers have advanced to the NASCAR Busch Series and NASCAR Nextel Cup Series ranks. This decade saw NASCAR expand in other areas as well. In 1996, many of the top NASCAR teams went to Japan for an exhibition race and branched out with retail stores and NASCAR cafes as the sport’s popularity continued to climb. Tracks expanded their gift shops and Daytona Speedway added an interactive tourist attraction, “Daytona USA”, where fans could learn more about the sport and its history.
In NASCAR’s 50th season, 1997, every Winston Cup race offered posted awards for their events in excess of a million dollars. Some were worth two or three times that amount. The Winston Cup fund, which began at $100,000 in 1971, had swelled to $4 million in 1997. When this race was all said and done, the winner, Jeff Gordon, walked off the stage with more than two million dollars in post season awards. This was a far cry from the $1000 Red Byron won as this division’s first champion in 1949. One of the most important reasons for stock car racings maturation during the 1990s was television.
By 1996, all Winston Cup races were televised live by network or cable systems. Virtually, every network was fighting for its slice of NASCAR’s revenue-producing pie. In November 1999, NASCAR signed a six-year, $400 million television contract with NBC and FOX networks starting in 2001. Fox and FX would broadcast the first half of the season, while NBC or TNT would broadcast the second half. FOX and NBC would alternate coverage of the Daytona 500. Now, nearly every major network and many cable stations can say they have broadcast a NASCAR race or have had some NASCAR coverage.
It was the year 2000, the millennium, and a new century for NASCAR. There were a lot changes to come, as well as a lot of misfortune. For the first time in history, NASCAR will be headed by someone who’s name isn’t France. On November 28, 2000 Mike Helton ( formerly? ) takes over as NASCAR’s president, replacing Bill France Jr. , who now chairs a five-member board of directors that also includes Helton. During the new years to come a lot of changes were going to happen; safety, rules, regulations, and sponsorship. New tracks would be introduced as well.
Kansas Speedway is one of the two tracks to open in 2001. The new track will hold 150,000 spectators as well as offer the largest tourist attraction in the entire state of Kansas. In addition to Kansas Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway was added to the schedule. NASCAR finally had a track near the nation’s third-largest media market. This would offer a great amount of revenue to the growing sport. NASCAR on XM satellite Radio is the first and only 24-hour radio channel dedicated to a single sport. Radio reports are everywhere on race day; they can offer a world more variety to the listeners.
Above the track, In the pits, talking to crew chiefs, crew members and interviewing drivers that have fallen out of the race. Tragedy struck when Busch driver Adam Petty, Cup driver Kenny Irwin, and Craftsman Truck racer Tony Roper died in separate accidents in 2000. Each died of head injuries, leading some drivers to embrace head-and-neck devices well before NASCAR made them mandatory. Seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt, died in a multi-car crash at the Daytona Speedway, hitting the outside wall head-on.
It was later determined that Earnhardt’s seat belt had broken sometime during the accident, which led to a season-long investigation on safety. NASCAR’s $10 million Research and Development Center is unveiled outside Charlotte, North Carolina. The R & D Center’s main function is to investigate bettering the safety for the drivers, pit crews, and fans. Some of the safety functions that have been introduced since the new century are: full face helmets, head protectors, roof flaps, fire extinguishers, kill switches, and SAFER barriers were added to some race tracks.
Most drivers were resistant to using the HANS Device, including Dale Earnhardt. They felt this device would restrain them to much and they would not have control of their movements inside the car. The object of this device was to reduce the chance of serious injury caused by the violent movement of the unrestrained head and helmet combination in an accident. This device is made of nylon and has tether straps attached to the device, which is attached to the back of the helmet. Since Earnhardt’s death in 2001, this device has now been made mandatory.
In addition to the HANS device, a new additional fire-extinguishing cylinder will be added solely dedicated to the fuel cell area. June 19, 2003 NASCAR announces a 10-year deal with primary sponsor NEXTEL beginning in 2004. This is to bring a lot of new changes to the sport. Beginning in 2004 NASCAR introduces the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series championship. This is a completely new system for crowning a champion. Following the race at Richmond International Speedway, only the top 10 drivers in the point standings are eligible to contend the year’s title.
This was a big change not only for the drivers but the fans as well. Now it doesn’t all have to depend on the last race to find out the winner, you may know with 2-3 races to go. This was a huge change for the sport. New sponsors, new drivers, new rules and regulations have excited the fans to come back for more every growing year. Even though the sport has changed a lot in the last 55 years, and it has lost some of the greatest drivers, we the fans can’t wait until February of the New Year. DAYTONA International Speedway, LET’S GO RACING!!!!!