Imagine the deafening sound of NASCAR fans screaming, stomping their feet in the stands as the loudspeaker belts out a blare to start the race. The cheers and excitement escalate several decibels as the drivers rev up their engines. The flag signals the stock cars to circle around the track. The drivers weave in and out of formation, gaining speed. The ads and colorful logos on the car’s exterior turn into a blur when the drivers punch the accelerator. The green flag comes out after the cars pass two exciting laps, and the race is about to begin.
During the course of the next three hours, 43 stock cars will leave dust in the wind, driving full bore to gain the lead position. One of the reasons why stock car racing is so popular is because the drivers add drama on the race course by sabotaging their opponents. They bang and bump into each other in a harried attempt to arrive first at the finish line. They get the lead only to lose it quickly; while others are sidetracked by overheating engines or flattened tires. Some cars collide against a wall, leaving the driver susceptible to smoke inhalation and flying parts. No other sport compares to the thrill of watching NASCAR races. In fact, the sport boasts 75 million enthusiasts from coast to coast.
The History of Stock Car Racing and the Emergence of NASCAR
The origins of stock car racing began in the south during the 1930s and 1940s. Stock car racing started with men with souped-up cars and incredible driving skills that illegally trafficked ‘moonshine whiskey.’ In fact, these men honed their driving skills so that they could outrun federal agents. However, stock car racing as a competitive sport emerged when drivers competed against each other on dirt tracks in open fields and fairgrounds.
Unscrupulous promoters dominated the early days of stock car racing. Many drivers had to harass these promoters for their pay at the end of the race. Bill France, a promoter in Daytona, Florida, decided to put an end to this shady practice by rallying a group of his colleagues to establish the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR).
France started the sport by promoting races with cars that looked similar to family sedans, rather than the souped-up cars that became popular during its heyday. France banned any car that did not have a hood, fender, bumper, or grille. NASCAR deems its earliest races with these restrictive stock cars as ‘Strictly Stock.’ Early competitors often drove their own families in their stock cars before and after the ‘Strictly Stock’ race.
NASCAR hosted its first ‘Strictly Stock’ race in the summer of 1949. This ‘Strictly Stock’ race involved 33 cars that competed in a 150-mile event stretching along North Carolina's Charlotte Speedway. Sara Christian, the first female driver to compete in stock car races, competed in this race and finished in 14th place. France changed the title of the NASCAR race to the ‘Grand National Division,’ since it sounded classier than the former title. In 1950, the first asphalt speedway opened in South Carolina, which prompted 75 drivers to participate in NASCAR's first 500-mile stock car race.
America's Growing Fanaticism with NASCAR
The United States has seen an upswing in NASCAR enthusiasm in the past 50 years, mainly because of the race tracks, tobacco, and television commercials commonly associated with its races. The growing trend exploded when France in 1959 opened the first super-speedway in Daytona, Florida. Daytona's speedway stretches 3,600 feet with high-banked turns that allow cars to reach speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour. France launched the first Daytona 500 event that same year, one of the most exciting races in NASCAR history. NASCAR hosts the new racing season with the Daytona 500 annually. In fact, the Daytona 500 remains the most important race on the schedule.
NASCAR constructed numerous tracks that still add value to the sport. None comes closer than the Talladega track that opened in 1969. The Talladega track stretches 2.66 miles and features 33-degree banked turns that make it one of the largest and scariest NASCAR tracks. In fact, NASCAR's top drivers boycotted the race after concerns arose over the track's safety. Bill Elliot logged 212.8 miles per hour on a qualifying lap in 1987 that prompted NASCAR to issue restrictions on carburetor restrictor plates.
In 1970, R.J. Reynolds tobacco company sponsored the Grand National Series after it was banned from advertising its products on national television. As a result, NASCAR renamed the Grand National Series to the Winston Cup, named after Reynold's most popular cigarettes. This would change when Nextel Communications took over sponsorship and renamed the series to the Nextel Cup. R.J. Reynolds' sponsorship inspired scores of corporations to contribute funds to NASCAR. This led to renovations at older tracks, including sky boxes and VIP suites.
In 1979, television networks started airing NASCAR races, including the Daytona 500 that involved a last-lap crash. These eventful finishes solidified the relationship between NASCAR and television networks, which now broadcasts every Daytona 500, Nextel Cup, and minor stock car races under the sun. The spurred growth of its television audience prompted NASCAR to expand its legacy beyond the south. In 1994, NASCAR invaded the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to launch the Indianapolis 500.
The Nextel schedule currently hosts more than 36 races outside of the American Southeast, including New Hampshire, California, Nevada, and Arizona. NASCAR still continues to expand its tracks across the United States, including Staten Island, one of the boroughs of New York City; the American Pacific Northwest, and Canada. NASCAR has already held exhibition races in Japan, and strives to expand its international presence in Mexico.
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