There’s a story for every sport that includes humble beginnings, unexpected twists and unique figures. Perhaps none hold a candle to the eye-raising past and iconic characters that have colored NASCAR.
The high-speed sport sprung up out of a perfect storm of two unique driving phenomenon during the first half of the 20th Century. Following a fabled race between Alexander Winston and Ransom Olds at the turn of the century, Daytona emerged as a racing Mecca. During the 1920s and 1930s, American car enthusiasts challenged countries such as France and Belgium for speed-record supremacy. From 1927 to 1935, eight world records were recorded at the Daytona Beach Road Course. But speed and sportsmanship weren’t the linchpin that made NASCAR a national sport.
Prohibition wasn’t well-received in the South. Bootlegging moonshine was big business in the Appalachian area and it took fast cars to outrun the law. “Runnin’ shine” led drivers to modify cars and drivers took pride in their car-handling abilities. After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Southerners had a real taste for racing. NASCAR was born out of speed and swagger.
Early NASCAR figures include William France Sr., who relocated to Daytona Beach in 1935 during the Great Depression to race. He made “stock car” racing more legitimate, ensuring drivers were paid, developed rules and sanctioned above-board events. By 1947, his groundwork grew into modern NASCAR.
NASCAR’s first commission was Erwin “Cannonball” Baker who raced stock cars, motorcycles, and even the Indy 500. He was famous for transcontinental speed driving. The “Cannonball Run” race and movie are named in his honor.
Bob “Barky” Barkhimer helped establish NASCAR-sanctioned races on the West Coast. After trekking to Daytona and spending time with Bill France Sr., he used his position of running 22 California speedways to make NASCAR a coast-to-coast thrill.
Over the years, NASCAR drivers have emerged as national and international legends. In 1992, the Hooters 500 was held at Atlanta Motor Speedway and six drivers had a shot at winning the series championship that day, Davey Allison, Bill Elliott, Alan Kulwicki, Kyle Petty, Harry Gant and Mark Martin. The race would also mark the final race for NASCAR icon Richard Petty and the first for Jeff Gordon. After crashes and car breakdowns, Elliot and Kulwicki slugged it out in a 2-man sprint to the finish line.
Racing enthusiasts may also not be aware that household name Dale Earnhardt didn’t always outpace the field. In fact, he failed to gain the checkered flag 19 times before finally winning the Daytona 500 in 1998. Apparently, the 20th try is the charm.
Today, NASCAR is a household name best-known for three distinct racing series, Monster Energy Cup, Xfinity Series and the Camping World Truck Series. The organization sanctions more than 1,5000 races in 39 states on upwards of 100 tracks. NASCAR-sanctioned races have been held in Canada, Mexico, Japan and Australia, among others. It’s also televised to more than 150 nations.
NASCAR is rich with amazing stories, unique facts and quirky characters. Test your skills and see if you can answer the following questions correctly!