I’m from the northeast and was not really aware of Nascar until my teenage years because it just wasn’t really watched by anyone I knew. I couldn’t understand what made it such a big deal until I learned to drive and realized very quickly that going fast wasn’t easy.
I remember reading in high school that Prohibition and moonshining were big influences on racecar driving. Of course, I also learned that the first car race was in 1895 in Chicago…so basically the minute that an engine was mounted to a carriage, racing them was the obvious next step. The every man’s car, Ford’s model T, rolled off the lines a little over a decade later. It was the first time that normal folks could afford to own a car, and they began to tinker with them and figure out how every part works. “How can we make it faster?” or “How can we make it handle better?” became the car-lover’s questions.
Prohibition was only another decade away. 1920 was the year that the American people as a whole were told that they could no longer have liquor, beer or wine. No one was going to tell people that they couldn’t have their hooch. Those that understood how to rebuild their vehicles would be the first moonshiners/bootleggers to outrace the government men that attempted to catch and arrest them. They may have replaced their own car’s engines with ambulance engines (the most powerful at the time). They added steel plates in front of the radiator, removed the rear seats for more storage space and added heavy duty suspension to the rear of the car. (The suspension was designed to keep all those mason jars intact on arrival as well…) The cars were made to look unassuming on the outside, but be beasts on the inside. The drivers became well-versed in taking tight turns at high speeds and raced each other to build on their driving skills.
At the end of Prohibition in 1933, the bootleggers still had a need for speed. The pride of car owners in having the fastest car spurred the continuation of engine improvements. By the 1940’s, races were being run for both fun and profit. Racing on sand tracks made it more important that the cars be lighter weight and able to turn more easily. Nascar was formed in 1948 in Daytona Beach where many races were held and speed records were being broken.
I still don’t watch Nascar, but I can appreciate it. It doesn’t need me anyway, as Nascar is second only to the NFL in television ratings here in the U.S. The fact is, that if it weren’t for Americans’ love and desire for whiskey, it would not exist. Cheers to that!