A history on how NASCAR got started has a colorful connection to illegal activity. What is now the most popular professional sport in America has its roots among the rum runners of the Prohibition Era.
Who's the Fastest?
During Prohibition, rum runners and bootleggers made risky trips across the border to smuggle alcohol into the United States. To give themselves an advantage over pursuing police, they would modify the engines of their production cars.
Rivalries began to form among Appalachian bootleggers over who had the fastest car. These drivers would challenge each other on mountain roads to see who's car had the top speed or the best handling.
In Florida, a racing culture grew up around Daytona Beach, a popular site for auto companies to pursue land speed records with their new engines. Daytona originated the idea of the racing oval, although the original track had one of its straightaways on the beach itself. A few local organizations formed to create rules and regulations for these races, and to recognize the fastest drivers on the course.
NASCAR was formed in 1948, at a time when there was a shortage of new cars because of World War II. Founder Bill France Sr. insisted on using modified cars, because he felt that race fans would not enjoy watching new cars being beat up while they were driving older cars.
In 1949, France decided to allow NASCAR races with cars that people actually drove on the street. No other racing organization was using "daily drivers" on the track at this point in time. France hoped that the idea would take root and create additional interest in racing. France's idea evolved over time into today's Sprint Cup Series.
Race Cars Evolve
In the early years of racing, putting a car together was not too expensive. Brand new cars in the 1940s allowed little room for modification, so racers did not have to put a lot of money into a car to get it ready for the track. The most that could be done to the cars was a bit of tweaking and engine tuning. Cars were often driven to the track. Some drivers used rental cars and did not have a certain car they drove for each race.
The early stock cars had glass windows, unlike the Lexan windows used today. Racers used ropes and aircraft harnesses for seat belts. Roll bars were not mandated until 1952. Racers drove many different makes of vehicles, including Buick, Chrysler, Ford, Cadillac, Kaiser, Lincoln, Hudson, Oldsmobile and Mercury.
In the early years of NASCAR, tires and suspension failures were large concerns. Tim Flock, a two-time Grand National champion, came up with the idea of putting a trap door in the floorboard, so that drivers could open it and check the wear on the right front tire. When a driver saw white cord showing through the tire, he knew he had to hit the pits in the next lap or two to replace the tires.
Before NASCAR became the popular sport it is today, drivers financed their own ventures. Today, with all the required safety equipment and performance enhancements, only the richest people would be able to race. Marketing in NASCAR has helped to fill the gap, with sponsors paying thousands of dollars to have their logos and colors on the cars.
Wondering where did NASCAR originate? The organization began as the dream of a mechanic and racer at Daytona Beach.
Wondering who invented NASCAR? A mechanic and driver named William France Sr. drew up the original plan in the 1940s.
What does NASCAR stand for? What does the organization do? Learn how NASCAR's rules and regulations ensure safety and fair competition in auto racing.