History of NASCAR
Whether you see it as just some cars driving around in circles or as an exciting sport that pushes the limits of speed with drivers fighting for inches of advantage to take the pole, there’s no denying NASCAR’s popularity. Getting to this point took decades of work, transforming informal races between amateurs into a fully sanctioned international racing phenomenon.
People using hopped-up cars to move booze is the basic plot of “Dukes of Hazzard” and “Smokey and the Bandit,” but before WWII, this was actually commonplace in Appalachia. Moonshine runners would take ordinary cars, fit them with hidden tanks to store the booze and add any performance part they could get their hands on so that they could outrun the cops. It wasn’t long before these bootleggers decided to compare their driving and construction skills on the racetrack. Informal races started being held across the South using these “stock” cars.
A National Stock Car Race
Bill France Sr. had worked on a racing association under the NASCAR name for years, but it all came together with plans for the first stock car race in 1948. The cars were supposed to be identical to those sold to the public, but that didn’t stop manufacturers from making a few high-performance models to give racers an edge on the track; those drivers would perform difficult-to-trace modifications like dipping frames in acid to reduce weight. During France Sr.’s tenure, development was a constant battle between automakers and regulators trying to keep the playing field fair while inviting innovation. This resulted in gradually losing the home-built spirit of stock car racing.
Bill France Jr. and the Cup
Bill France Jr. took over for his father in 1974, gradually moving the format to purpose-built vehicles that could safely handle the speeds and fender-to-fender driving that fans had come to love. From there, he turned NASCAR’s unrelated series of races into a clear ladder of succession leading to “The Cup,” known by names including the Winston Cup and Sprint Cup depending on the current sponsor. He was able to leverage this new driver-focused format to bring in sponsorship money that, in turn, was used to extend NASCAR’s reach outside of the South. Through the 1990s, venues were added across the U.S., and eventually international series like Australia’s AUSCAR were added, turning stock car racing into the international sport we know today.