The chronological progression of stock car racing and its governing body, the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), is examined in this anecdote-filled yet reflective account.
Legendary driver Richard Petty once said that auto racing began “the day they built the second automobile,” but according to sportswriter Menzer (Four Corners, 1999), stock car racing developed in the southeastern US during the 1930s, when moonshine runners would try to outrun federal agents. This quickly led to loosely organized races among the moonshiners, which led in turn to the formation of NASCAR in 1947. The first president of the organization was Big Bill France, a northerner who organized the renegade sport primarily by devising a points system (to determine the winners) and by disqualifying any modified cars from the races. Sponsorships helped expand the races (particularly the landscape-altering deal made with the Reynolds Tobacco Company in the 1970s), but it was always the drivers and their stories who captured the attention of the diehard fans—from such colorful early-day drivers as Ned Jarrett, Junior Johnson, Humpy Wheeler, and superstar Fireball Roberts to later stars like Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Donnie Allison, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Jeff Gordon. Candid stories show the friendships and rivalries of the drivers and reveal some of NASCAR’s high and low points (one of the lowest being the day that black driver Wendell Scott won a race and was denied his trophy by the judges, who feared a riot from the rowdy crowd). An interesting digression looks at the evolution of safety standards (often implemented only after a death of some famous driver or other) in a sport known for its high fatality rates.
An interesting portrait of a uniquely American—and, more specifically, southern—institution.