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The History of NASCAR, Charlie Young

(Editor's note: Today begins a 6 part series on the history of NASCAR following the years of pre-NASCAR, it's birth, and growth to the present day. Check back for the next 5 parts of this story every weekend. Enjoy!)

Auto racing as we know it today began during the 1930's Prohibition days of the Great Depression in the south. Whiskey and moonshine makers had to have a way to deliver their product without getting caught by the local authorities, and on Saturday nights at a home made dirt track friends would hold contest to see who was the best moonshine "runner".

From that humble beginning, stock car racing has grown steadily into a multi-million dollar business, but not without its own ups and downs.

During Prohibition, a certain deep south beach at Daytona Beach, Florida was being used for record speed runs, but the cars were getting too fast for the short section of beach (Shiels, p.1-2). Consequently all of those who attempted to break the land speed record were forced to try elsewhere. Many moved to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah to try their luck. Daytona Beach, the "World Capital of Speed" now had nothing to support it's nickname, so in 1938 the city officials asked a man by the name of Sig Haugdahl to promote a race on the beach.

Haugdahl set up a four mile track comprised of two miles of beach and two miles of Florida Highway A1A, connected by 2 U-turns. To attract drivers, the city of Daytona Beach put up a five thousand dollar purse. However, some city leaders objected and hid the money and the tickets. The race was still held, but without a prize for any of the drivers, flopped.

One of the drivers in that first race was an unknown man by the name of Bill France, who finished fifth. After Haugdahl's plan race flopped, "Big" Bill decided he wanted to try his hand at promoting. So, in 1939, France got his chance. Stories say that he hung up three thousand posters by hand to announce the race. Unfortunately, ticket sales were down for that first race because there was no fence and people just snuck in to watch. To cure this problem, the next year France put up a "Beware of Rattlesnakes" sign, and the problem was solved.

The outbreak of World War II brought a temporary halt to racing, as many of the drivers were involved in war related jobs, and fuel and tires were scarce. Bill France himself went to work in a shipyard. However, after the war, racing came back as strong, if not stronger, than ever.

In 1947, Clay Earles built Martinsville Speedway, a one half mile dirt oval. Martinsville Speedway, currently paved, in West Virginia, is still in operation to this day. Bill France, now a popular race promoter, was asked to promote this first race at this track as well. (Hembree, p. 33-40) In a day when many track promoters were thieves who would leave the track in the middle of the race with the purse, Bill France stood apart. He saw the need for a national sanctioning body to oversee a racing series with races held at different tracks and a National Championship.

On December 14-17, 1947, France called a four day meeting of twenty-two to thirty-five promoters, mechanics, and drivers in the Ebony Room at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona to discuss the possibilities of a new national sanctioning body. Among the things that Bill wanted to see were a guaranteed purse for all races, a clearly stated set of rules, and an elimination of arguments over rules discrepancies. All these things and more were discussed and it was time to pick a name for the new organization. Many wanted to call it the National Stock Car Racing Association (NSCRA), but that name was already taken. The second choice was "National Association of Stock Car Automobile Racing" (NASCAR). The attendees voted, and NASCAR was born in February of 1948.

The first race for the new sanctioning body was held at none other than the Daytona Beach/Road course on February 22, 1948 (Hembree, p. 45-47). The cars in that race ran in the Modified class, and were mostly old 1930's cars with tweaked motors. The first year of incorporation of NASCAR saw the sanctioning of fifty-two races, but France still wasn't satisfied.

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