How Nascar Became a Major American "sport"

By: Grant Eckert

NASCAR, or the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, is known as the largest motorsports sanctioning body in the United States. The three series under the auspices of NASCAR include the Craftsman Truck Series, the Nationwide Series and the Sprint Cup. Some local races such as the Whelen Modified Tour and the All-American Series from Whelen are overseen by NASCAR. Overall, 1500 races at 100 tracks are considered NASCAR races.

Originally, NASCAR was viewed as a regional sport coming from the Southeastern United States, but today it ranks second only to football in television rating in the U.S. In addition to broadcasts in the United States, races by NASCAR drivers are shown in 150 countries globally. Fans show support of the sport by purchasing licensed products in the amount of $3 billion annually. Fortune 500 companies recognize the power of NASCAR fans and sponsor the sports more than any other sponsorship role.

The headquarters of NASCAR is at Daytona Beach, Florida. There are four local offices in North Carolina and regional offices in Arkansas, New York City and Los Angeles. Mexico City and Toronto Canada also have NASCAR offices. Additionally, most NASCAR teams consider North Carolina home.

Originally, Daytona Beach was the location where world land speed records were set with eight consecutive records between 1927 and 1935. The Daytona Beach road course was the site of fifteen speed records before 1935. As the location for land speed records moved to Bonneville Salt Flats, Daytona Beach was already synonymous with fast cars both on the beach and on the coastal highway A1A.

The years of Prohibition followed by the repeal in 1933 made use of fast cars with modified capacity driven at high speeds either to evade the police or later the revenuers. Much of this activity occurred near Wilkes County region of North Carolina, but also in other parts of the Southeastern United States. Races of the modified cars increased in numbers and popularity during those years.

Three people were primary in the creation of the NASCAR governing body in 1948: William France, Sr., Erwin 'Cannonball' Baker, and Bob 'Barky' Barkhimer. William France wanted to protect the drivers from unscrupulous promoters who collected gate receipts and did not award winning to the drivers. The first intent was to race Roadsters, Modified, and Stock cars. Only the Modified division raced during the first year. The first season had 52 Modified dirt track races. By 1949, the Strictly Stock division made its debut

Originally, the cars raced had to be virtually factory models, but beginning in 1950 it was recognized that modifications for safety and performance were desirable and the Division was named 'Grand National'. By the mid 1960s, the races were run with race cars and a stock body.

Only one of the original season race tracks is still on the circuit today-Martinsville Speedway. The Darlington Raceway and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are both recognized world wide for their famous events in the world of NASCAR racing. Originally, the race tracks were oval and measured 0.5 to 1 miles per lap. Darlington was 1.366 miles and known as a Superspeedway following its construction in 1950. The track was wider and faster than other locales. In 1959 the Daytona International Speedway at 2.5 miles became the sport icon.

During the early 1970's new sponsorship was found for the sport in the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company. The name of the series was changed from Grand National to the Winston Cup. The series today is known as the Sprint Cup. Prizes were increased significantly and a new points system was developed. The series dropped from 48 races during the season to 31 races. Busch Beer took on the sponsorship of the next competitive level of racers, known as the Late Model Sportsman.

ABC Sports began covering some of the Grand National races but abandoned the effort as not exciting enough for ratings. In 1979, the Daytona 500 race was picked up from flag to flag by CBS. During the final lap, the two leaders wrecked on the backstretch and the third place car driven by Richard Petty won the race. The two wrecked car drivers and a family member proceeded to add to the drama on national television by engaging in a fistfight. Fans that had been kept indoors by a major snowstorm on the U.S. eastern seaboard were introduced to the excitement and drama of the sport.

Changes in the point structure awarded to drivers and teams has also helped to maintain the excitement of the series ever since.

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