The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, or NASCAR, has been the second most celebrated and supported professional sports franchises in the United States in terms of fans and television viewers, next to the National Football League. NASCAR is the world’s premier motorsports organization that authorizes prestigious stock-car racing events such as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Camping World Truck Series and the Xfinity Series. It sanctions more than 1,500 races in 39 US states, as well as in Canada, Europe and Mexico.
NASCAR’s roots trace back to bootlegging during the period of Prohibition in the US in the 1920s to 1930s. During this time, whiskey trade was illegal, so people delivered their bootleg whiskey secretly by driving at high speeds to evade the police. This often ends up as informal races, just for bragging rights for who drove the fastest.
After World War II, racing of stock cars, or unmodified automobiles, has been increasingly popular. Tracks were drawing more drivers and bigger crowds, but there is no organization. Rules differ from track to track, and the drivers were often victimized by promoters who would run away with all the prize money for the drivers. Some tracks also could not handle the crowds. These problems were observed by William France Sr., who ran the Daytona course in 1938.
France came to Daytona Florida, from Washington, D.C, to escape the Great Depression in 1935. He raced as well, finishing fifth in the 1936 Daytona event, and then promoted a few races before the second World War.
On Dec. 14, 1947, France organized a meeting at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach with drivers, promoters, car owners and mechanics to create standards and organized rules for stock car racing. Two months after the organizational meeting, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing was born. France embraced leadership for the organization. The first NASCAR-sanctioned race was held on Feb. 15, 1948 in Daytona Beach, where Red Byron from Atlanta won in his Ford Modified.
The original NASCAR divisions were Modified, Strictly Stock and Roadster. The roadster division was easily abandoned due to lack of fan appeal, while the modified division is now called the Whelen Modified Tour.
The first NASCAR Strictly Stock race was held in Charlotte Speedway on June 19, 1949, where Glenn Dunaway initially won. However, he was disqualified after altered rear springs were discovered from his Ford, so Jim Roper was announced as the winner. The Strictly Stock Division was originally for cars with no modifications on the factory models, but modifications for performance and safety were eventually allowed by the mid-1960s. The division was renamed as the Grand National since 1950s.
In the 1950s, the Darlington International Raceway became the first asphalt speedway to host a NASCAR event, where Johnny Mantz won in his Plymouth. More new raceways were established, and the first Daytona 500 was held in 1959. Lee Petty was declared as the winner, 61 hours after the race was finished. It took NASCAR officials that long to study news footages of the race between Petty and Johnny Beauchamp, because their finish was that close.
Fans have been hooked, and as the sport expanded, new champions emerged. Seventeen years later, a Lee Petty’s son Richard raced against David Pearson, and the two drivers crashed before the finish line. Pearson was announced as the winner as it sputtered to the checkered flag – making it one of the most famous NASCAR race finish ever. Richard made a comeback three years later and won. He was eventually called “The King” of stock car racing for being the most accomplished racer in the history of NASCAR. Petty and Pearson, together with Cale Yarborough, Ned Jarrett, Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker ushered NASCAR through an era that featured a schedule of more than 60 races a year.
The decade of the 1970s brought further changes for NASCAR. In 1972, William France Jr., France’s son, took over the organization’s leadership. That year, NASCAR’s Cup Series won its first title sponsor – the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. After being banned from advertising in television, the company found NASCAR as a promotional outlet, which led to the Grand National Series to be named as the Winston Cup Series. Reynold’s involvement also led to the NASCAR Winston West Series and the NASCAR Winston Racing Series, which is now the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series.
NASCAR’s exposure has grown increasingly. In 1976, the Winston Cup Series took the lead in worldwide motorsports attendance, with more than 1.4 million spectators. In 1979, the Daytona 500 was the first 500-mile race to be broadcasted in full live in television. In 1981, the annual awards ceremony was moved from Daytona Beach to the bustling city of New York. And by the mid-1980s, Fortune 500 companies began sponsoring individual teams and races as well.
In 1982, the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman Division, which was now known as the NASCAR Xfinity Series, was born. It was initially sponsored by Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser brand, and was replaced by Nationwide Insurance before being sponsored by Comcast’s Xfinity brand.
Expansion continued through the 1990s, as the famed New Hampshire International Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway were built in 1993 and 1994, respectively. In 1994, NASCAR introduced the Craftsman Truck Series involving modified, full-bodied pick-up trucks.
In 2003, Bill France Jr.’s son Brian was named as NASCAR’s Chairman and CEO. The following year, the Winston Cup was renamed as the Nextel Cup Series after Nextel Communications assumed sponsorship, and the new Chase championship points system was developed. It gave the sport a post-season comparable to a playoff.
During the late 2000s, NASCAR expanded internationally to Canada Mexico and across the Atlantic.
In 2017, Monster Energy became the title sponsor, so the series’ name was changed to Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. It’s NASCAR’s most popular series, as writers and fans ambiguously use NASCAR as a synonym for the competition.
Through the years, different racing divisions have been established. Today, NASCAR has three national series, as well as four regional and two international series.