From Moonlight to Millionaires: An Oral History of NASCAR

The history of NASCAR is no different from the history of the United States – a beautiful history devoid of turbulence, defiance, and perseverance. During alcohol prohibition, moonshiners operating near the southern Texas border littered their cars to outrun local police. Federal Revenue Officers would always be on the prowl to pick up a liquor deliverer, so the race was always on. Even after the fall of Prohibition, the illegal liquor trade continues to flourish in rural areas.

Moonshine is a type of whiskey that is distilled from corn and potatoes, among other things, and since it was made at home, it was difficult to distinguish its origin. Over the generations, moonshiners continually improved their delivery vehicles and continued to beat the law. Naturally, it became a standard for moonshiners who start to brag and talk bad. From there came informal races that the moonshiners would run to determine which runner was the fastest; This new sport was not only about having the fastest car, but also about outwitting and out-performing all the competition that the law included.

After WWII these races became more organized, but hardly anyone started calling it an organized sport until Big Bill France arrived on the scene.

Big Bill France organized the first meetings for all drivers, mechanics and owners to confirm a set of standard rules for racing. These meetings gave birth to the National Stock Car Racing Association. The first official NASCAR race was held at Daytona Beach on February 15, 1948. Red Byron was the winner of this inaugural race in his Ford Flathead V8 on the harsh sands of the Atlantic Ocean. This was long before the famous Daytona tri-oval that is today’s sports mecca.

Not more than a week later, NASCAR was incorporated and Big Bill was named its first commissioner. By the late 1950s, NASCAR was already on its way to becoming America’s largest spectator sport. Throughout the years, NASCAR has seen its share of incredible racing, competing competitors, and tough situations.

In 1992, when Richard Petty retired as a driver, NASCAR transitioned drivers from the old school to the new school. Drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart have brought a whole new art to NASCAR racing. From former moonshine racers to well-spoken race car drivers, NASCAR has come a long way. Looking at the sport today, one would never think that its origins stem from an illegal collaboration from the old-school whiskey-producing country.

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