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NASCAR 1925-1970 "Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!"
NASCAR, (National Stock Car Racing Association), was officially started by Bill France Sr. in 1948. However, its roots first sprouted as far back as the 20s. His birthplace is Daytona Beach, Florida. During this time, Daytona Beach had replaced France and Belgium as the preferred place to set new land speed records. A total of 8 records were set between 1927 and 1935, turning Daytona beach into a paradise for racing and speed enthusiasts. In 1936, the Bonneville Salt Flats became the new premier place for setting land speed records, but Daytona was now the place for racing. During this time, the track at Daytona was a 4.1 mile long oval, with a 1.5 mile stretch of beach as one straight, and a flat, narrow, black highway as the other. The two were connected by two corrugated turns and a tight corner covered with sand. Why is NACAR so popular in the south? The roots of stock car racing are deeply rooted in ‘bootlegging’. During “Prohibition”, bootleg whiskey operators, (better known as Moonshiners), who were mainly based in the Appalachian region of the United States, needed to distribute their illegal product to other parts of the south . For this, they used fast cars and daring drivers, who could either avoid or outrun the authorities. In 1933, the ban was repealed, putting some bootleggers out of business. But the money and continued demand have kept many operating. Now there were the ‘Tax’ revenuers they were trying to defeat. This necessity caused drivers to modify their cars to make them lighter and faster. By the late 40s, many of these ‘shiny’ vehicles were being raced against each other for pride and profit. These racing events were great entertainment in the rural south, especially in the Wilkes County area of North Carolina.
In 1935, the mechanic William France Sr. moved. to Daytona Beach, Florida from Washington DC to escape the woes of the “Great Depression”. France was familiar with Daytona’s history of speed and racing records. He even took part in a race in 1936, coming in 5th place. In 1938 he started running the course. France sponsored a few races before the start of the Second World War. France had always seen the entertainment value of “stock car” racing. In 1947, a push began for racing to be sanctioned and organized as a ‘formal sport’, with rules and regulations for the honest management of the owner and driver protection, on and off the track. In the past, stage promoters would win with all the money made from the race, before the driver even crossed the finish line. In December 1947, France met with other influential drivers and promoters to hammer out some sort of plan for the venture. The historic meeting took place at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach. It took over 2 months, but on February 21, 1948, everyone involved came to a single agreement and NASCAR was born.
NASCAR Baby It’s Hot 1949-1970 “Gentlemen, start your engines!”
It was now official, there was a sport called ‘stock car race’, with a governing body called NASCAR. The first commissioner of this new organization was Erwin “Cannonball” Baker. Besides being one of the founders who were at that famous meeting in Daytona Beach, Baker was a legend in the racing world. Winner of the very first race held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909, along with winning numerous stock car and motorcycle races. He also set over a hundred land speed records in his career. The cross country race, “Cannonball Run”, and the films of the same name that followed, were named after him, when he drove a car from New York to Los Angeles. Baker died in 1960 aged 78.
In the early 50s, a major development was about to happen. William’s son, Bill France Jr., was serving in the Navy and was stationed in California at Moffet Federal Airport. France Sr. asked. for his son to contact Bob Barkhimer in San Jose, California. During the Second World War, Barkhimer gained fame in midget car racing. He now owned and operated 22 different speedways, which had earned him the role of head of the California Stock Car Racing Association. France Jr. met. and developed a close friendship with Barkhimer. Bill Jr. enjoyed and immersed himself in west coast racing. “Barkey”, as he was known to friends, traveled east to Daytona to meet France Sr. The meeting was a success for both men. In the spring of 1954, NASCAR became a bicoastal organization, with racing sanctioned in California under Barkhimer’s leadership.
One of NASCAR’s first elite drivers was Ralph Earnhardt. Earnhardt started racing on the side in 1949, but by 1953, racing was his full-time job. In 1955, Earnhardt finished second in the NASCAR Sportsman Championship. The following year he won the title, and in ’57 he came third. In 1956 Earnhardt competed in his Grand National, (now known as the Sprint Cup), race, where he took the pole and finished 2nd. In ’61, he came 17th in the National Point. In ’67, he became South Carolina state champion, winning races at Columbia and the Greenville-Pickens speedway. One of NASCAR’s original legendary drivers, he is the father of the late and also legendary Dale Earnhardt as well as the grandfather of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and a brother, Kerry Earbhardt. Ralph Earnhardt died in 1973 of a heart attack.
Another great driver from that time was, Fred Lorenzen. The “Golden Boy”, as he was called, won all five of the original southern ‘big tracks’. It took Richard Petty another two decades to reach this milestone. From 1961-1967, Lorenzen won a quarter of the races he entered and placed in the top 10 half the time. A remarkable achievement considering the condition of the tracks as well as the poor survival rate of that period. He retired at the age of 32. Picking up where Lorenzen left off as Ford’s top driver was Bobby Allison. He and rival Richard Petty went head to head with Allison several times, getting the better of him in even races. Allison won races well into his forties, even scoring a victory in the Daytona 500 at age 50. But, finally, a serious wreck in 1988 forced his retirement.
Then there is “The King”. Of course I mean Richard Petty. One of the greatest drivers of this era to ever sit behind the wheel. He is known as “The King” because of his 200 professional victories. There is no other NASCAR driver more recognizable than Petty. For the first part of NASCAR’s modern era, Petty was the face of stock car racing. Another generation racing family like the Earnhardts, Richard’s son, Kyle, (now retired), was also a driver, as was his son, Adam. Tragically, Adam was killed in a crash during practice at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2000. Two years later, Kyle would retire from racing to focus on behind-the-scenes efforts at Petty Enterprises.
NASCAR was growing and maturing. The 60’s were coming to an end and with the new decade, a new development was about to be established. It would bring NASCAR to the fore nationally, big time.
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