Racecars were first built to aid liquor bootlegging during prohibition. Bootleggers had the ingenious idea of building cars specifically designed for speed and handling so they could evade the police more easily. These specially-made cars were also equipped with more cargo capacity so they could carry more stock of illegal liquor, which is where the name stock car comes from. Once the repeal of prohibition came about, the need for such cars died out, but the appeal of fast driving thrived. Thus, the sport of car racing was born.
Official stock car races began in the Daytona Beach area in the 1930s amid the hard times of the Great Depression. That’s how William France Sr., the founder of NASCAR, found himself in Daytona. In an effort to escape the Depression, he entered the races. It worked out so well for him, that by 1938, he was running the Daytona course.
Automobile racing in that time was nothing like it is today. Drivers and car owners rarely saw eye to eye, and oftentimes the owners would take off with the winnings before paying their drivers. There was no foundation in place at the time to protect the drivers from such treatment, and France knew that something needed to be done about it. He got together with other racers and car owners who also disagreed with the current situation, and in 1948, the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing, or NASCAR, was officially incorporated, ensuring that drivers and owners alike were treated fairly.
Any stock cars that raced in the newly-formed NASCAR could expect to race on a rutted, dirt track, which caused many accidents and casualties, but in 1950, all that changed with the first official race track in South Carolina called the Darlington Raceway. Soon after, the Daytona International Speedway was completed in 1959, and the first Daytona 500 race was held that year.
NASCAR has been known as a family business. The first Daytona 500 was won by Lee Petty, and several years after that, his legacy would be carried on by his son Richard, who won the race seven times before retiring in 1979 as the first ever NASCAR superstar.
NASCAR continued the tradition of family business, when in 1972, William France Sr.’s son, William France Jr., took over the presidency of NASCAR. Under his influence, NASCAR transformed from a sport only popular in the southeastern part of the United States to a sport with global television contracts, even more NASCAR sanctioned racetracks, and great marketing.
Today, NASCAR sanctions more than 1,200 races each year at over 100 tracks all over the United States. It also enjoys billion-dollar TV contracts, bringing the joy of stock car racing to homes all around the world.