The History of NASCAR
The National Association for Stock Car Racing, or NASCAR, is one of America’s most popular spectator sports since its official inception in 1948. When you think of NASCAR, you might think of fast cars, big company logos, sunny Daytona Beach or Days of Thunder. But the sport found its footing in a completely different kind of thrill: moonshine running during the Prohibition era.
NASCAR during Prohibition
Since Prohibition left people thirsty for alcohol, the bootlegging business skyrocketed. Moonshine, an alcoholic drink made secretly in rural areas in the South, needed to be transported to customers across the country. So moonshine distilleries used runners, drivers who drove ordinary-looking stock cars that didn’t attract unwanted attention. But their cars were far from ordinary. Runner cars were usually upgraded with heavy-duty shocks and springs to protect the jars of moonshine on bumpy backroads. High-powered engines helped drivers outrun cops and tax agents on the lookout along the way. And without standard back seats, more contraband booze could fit in the car.
When Prohibition ended in the 1930s, runners no longer had moonshine running to occupy their time. They turned, instead, to organized racing.
From bootlegging to burnouts
Instead of outrunning the cops with smuggled moonshine, runners held informal races against each other to see who was the best. So many spectators turned up to enjoy the races that runners began to take notice. One runner named Big Bill France made racing official on December 14, 1947. France organized a meeting for drivers, car owners and mechanics at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, FL. France knew that with a structure for honoring champions, record-holders, and tracking stats, the sport would grow. Thus, NASCAR was born.
The first years of NASCAR
Two months later the first official NASCAR race held in Daytona Beach was won by Red Byron, who drove a Ford. Lee Petty won the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959, after Big Bill France reviewed video footage for hours after the race finished. Big Bill France remained the president of NASCAR from its founding until 1972, when he handed it over to his son, Bill France Jr. After years of dramatic races and incidents on the track, 1992 was marked as a turning point in NASCAR history, when veteran Richard Petty retired and Jeff Gordon began competing.
NASCAR greats like Dale Earnhardt, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Danica Patrick have popularized racing and helped it grow into a multi-billion-dollar industry. Not bad for a sport that began with talented drivers smuggling contraband moonshine across the Southeast.