Auto Racing Begins! The History of NASCAR

Auto Racing Begins! The History Of NASCAR

The history of NASCAR can be traced back to the 1920′s and early in the 1930′s during the Prohibition era. Moonshine running was an undercover business that started to boom. Although the secret manufacturing of whiskey was a big deal, the secret transportation was an even bigger deal. Moonshine runners were also known as bootleggers who illegally transported whiskey from stills that were hidden to markets all across the Southeast. The bootleggers would drive at night, at very high speeds, and in many cases, with the police close behind them. It was a dangerous time and losing meant jail time or even the loss of living.

Bootlegging was booming and driving at high speed was very dangerous. However, drivers eventually started racing amongst themselves and testing which car was the fastest. They would race on Sunday afternoons and Sunday nights would use the cars to haul the moonshine. People enjoyed watching this, so racing the moonshine cars gained in popularity throughout the South’s back hills. After the Prohibition era, bootlegging continued, due to the large tax that was put on whiskey when the Volstead Act was repealed in 1933.

nascar red byron

The Red Byron was one of the first NASCAR racers

A more formal race was organized on Daytona Beach in Florida by William H.G. France, in 1938. The winner of the race was rewarded with items such as motor oil, cigars, and run. France had a vision and he knew that in order for the sport to grow, an organization needed to exist as a way to list the champions, provide statistics, and honor record-holders and records. Racing stock cars was halted during World War II as production of cars ceased and drivers were sent to war. Some of the drivers returned and occasional races continued to run at Daytona Beach.

France knew the time had come for national sanctioning for American motorsports. In December of 1948, he assembled promoters from the Northeast, Southeast, and Midwest for a meeting in Daytona. Specifications and rules were figured out and agreed upon during a three-day period and the organization’s name was called NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing). The first race, held in North Carolina in 1949, was the Winston Cup Series. This division was known as the “Strictly Stock” division and it was open to those driving American made, full-sized, passenger cars that had complete grilles, bumpers, fenders, and bodies. It was a requirement that any part on the vehicle needed to be listed in the catalog of the manufacturer for that particular model.

bill france stock car

Bill France — the Father of Modern Stock Car Racing

Oldsmobile, Mercury, Lincoln, Kaiser, Hudson, Ford, Chrysler, Cadillac, and Buick were among the nine makes that came to the race line at the first Strictly Stock Division race. Due to problems such as suspension, wheel, and tire failures, caused by stresses typical of everyday use, there was cause for concern. Tim Flock described a solution which was a trap door located in the cars floorboard which could be opened with a chain. Then the driver could check the wear on the front, right tire. Glenn Dunnaway drove a 1947 Ford and won the first race. However, illegal parts were found on his car, due to it being used for bootlegging. The case went to court and NASCAR won. The second place driver, Jim Roper, was deemed the winner.

In 1950, the Super speedway became a reality and the Southern 500 was held. The track was faster, wider, and larger than any driver had seen before. Racecar driver Johnny Mantz drove a 1950 Plymouth and won the race. The event helped bring in those who previously were not interested in racing.

NASCAR grew through the ’50s and gained corporate sponsors including Champion Sparkplugs and Pure Oil. Major manufacturers including Chrysler, Chevrolet, and Ford even backed individual drivers. The manufacturers would give the drivers money to promote their products. Car companies realized there was potential in stock car racing to sell vehicles, so they put more money into their racing programs. Races were held in places such as Chicago’s Soldier Field and Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium during the 1950′s. Car tire development also boomed during this era, with the dominant company being Firestone. Goodyear was also involved, but their involvement at the time was limited.

By 1964, engine wars peaked. Racecar driver, Richard Petty used a hemi on the racetrack and won his first Daytona 500. The body styles of Dodge and Plymouth were streamlined and engineers at Chrysler invented a system to be used along with hemi heads. This made a free-breathing combustion chamber that produced a top end horsepower on tracks for high speeds. Currently, developments in NASCAR continue to awe crowds of thousands through the years. It has become the top spectator sport in the United States and is showing no signs of slowing down.

The following resources will provide everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the history of NASCAR and American motorsports:


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