NASCAR was founded in 1948 by Bill France Jr. The formation and subsequent success of NASCAR was based on an idea France Jr. had of racing “stock” cars or cars that anyone could purchase from any car dealer. This early decision established the fledgling racing circuit as a sport for the masses, and distinctly different from other racing circuits which used specially built and far more expensive cars for racing.
Current fans might not recognize the early years of NASCAR racing. In stark contrast to today, safety was not at the forefront of the racer’s minds. Seatbelts, when used, were often made of rope or aircraft harnesses, roll bars were nonexistent at first, and the windows had glass in them. Occasionally drivers even rented their car on the weekend of the race.
The first “modern” addition to NASCAR that could be considered “high performance”, thus removing an element of the stock car ethos, was the use of specialized tires. In 1952 the Pure Oil Company developed a tire especially for car racing. This non-stock item was allowed because they were promoting safety. This, and the mandatory addition of roll bars also in 1952, began the evolution from stock cars to the high performance vehicles we see racing today. Soon other modifications began to pop up as manufacturers began offering “severe usage” parts on their assembly line cars in order to get those parts into NASCAR cars as well. Manufacturers immediately understood the value of their parts and cars winning popular races.
In addition to the changes in the cars themselves, the racetracks also began to evolve. The first races were held on dirt tracks, but it wasn’t long until tracks were being built to capitalize on the popularity of racing. In 1950 the first superspeedway track was built in Darlington, South Carolina. These new tracks were longer, wider and had higher banks than the older tracks. In 1959, Daytona International Speedway opened, immediately becoming the preeminent track in stock car racing.
The modern age of NASCAR began in the 1970’s. In 1972, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company teamed up with NASCAR to establish the Winston Cup Series. The decade was dominated by Richard Petty who won 5 championships and 3 consecutive titles. In the 1980’s Petty was surpassed by a new generation of drivers including Dale Earnhardt, Bill Elliot, and Rusty Wallace. Earnhardt quickly established himself as the driver to beat, winning the 1979 Rookie of the Year. He went on to become the most popular racer of all time, winning 76 races and finishing in the top ten an amazing 428 times. Unfortunately, Earnhardt perished in a tragic accident in 2001. His death deeply affected the entire industry which moved quickly to implement additional safety standards on all cars.
Despite the loss of the sport’s most popular driver, NASCAR today is bigger than ever. New drivers continue to bring new fans to the track including Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt’s son, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Attendance has skyrocketed and new television contracts have been signed. The sport has sponsors knocking down the doors and NASCAR is now a multi-billion dollar industry. There are approximately 100 races each year, divided among three series: Sprint, Nationwide, and Camping World. NASCAR is now the fastest growing spectator sport in America.
Check out www.nascar.com and www.coasttocoasttickets.com to find out where the next race is and to get the best tickets. Experience the thrill of squealing tires and the speed of cars approaching 200 mph as they pass by in front of you!
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