NASCAR's Greatest Moments

Part 1:  The pre-Modern Era

 by Adam Sewell
June 5, 2001

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Bill France

Stock car racing had humble beginnings in the deep South of the United States. The sport was an indirect result of Prohibition. Since alcoholic beverages were made illegal, bootlegging went on the rise. The runners that hauled the illegal alcohol needed fast cars to escape from the authorities. When Prohibition ended, most of the bootlegging subsided, and the drivers were left with their cars without any runs to make. So they started racing at the local fair grounds and dirt tracks. Soon, the drivers were traveling to races held at such tracks as the old Daytona beach circuit. The track at Daytona made use of a 2 mile stretch of the beach on the Florida shore as one straightaway and Florida Highway A1A as the other straightaway. Among the drivers to attempt to tame the beach course, was a young man by the name Bill France. Bill France was concerned that without a major governing body, the infant sport of stock car racing was just spinning its wheels in the sand. 

December 1947 

At the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida, meetings were held concerning the formation of an organization that would be responsible for the promotion of stock car racing. The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, otherwise known as NASCAR, was formed. It's first president was Bill France, Sr. NASCAR was formed to promote and govern the sport of stock car racing. One of the biggest concerns and reasons for NASCAR's founding was the ongoing problem of the corrupt promoter. In the sport's early days, it was common for a promoter to place signs around announcing an upcoming race, sell the tickets, and then leave with all the money while the race was going on. This left the drivers with no prize for their efforts. 


NASCAR's first race for it's Strictly Stock division, which is now the Winston Cup Series, was held at a little mile dirt track in Charlotte, North Carolina. The first driver to the checkered flag was Glen Dunaway. However, he was disqualified by NASCAR for making modifications to his car and Jim Roper was declared the winner of the first Strictly Stock race. 


Though NASCAR was only two years old, Bill France knew that for the sport to survive, he needed big league track on the schedule, much like the open-wheel cars had the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Darlington Raceway was built near the small town of Darlington, South Carolina. The track was originally built for open-wheeled cars, but due to poor response, Bill France was contacted about running a NASCAR event at the track instead. Darlington Raceway was NASCAR's first superspeedway and became the home of the Southern 500. 75 cars, in a 3-wide formation, took the green flag to start the race. The Darlington asphalt chewed up the tires as if the cars were racing on a cheese grater. Several teams had over 20 tires to fail during the running of the race, and tires were in such shortage, the teams had to take the tires of of the cars in the parking lot to be able to complete the race. Finally, over five hours after the green flag, Johnny Mantz won the first Southern 500. 


Daytona International Speedway was opened in 1959.

Though the Southern 500 had become NASCAR's most prestigious race, Bill France had an even grander vision. He set out to build a speedway like no other before it. Construction began on a D-shaped track with 31 degrees of banking in the corners. Dirt for the banking was removed from the infield of the track, and the resulting depression was filled with water and it became the famous Lake Lloyd. When construction was completed, the Daytona International Speedway was born. The first Daytona 500 took place on February 22, 1959. 59 cars started the event, and not a single lap was run under caution. Never before in auto racing, had a photo finish camera ever been needed. At the end of the 200th lap, Johnny Beauchamp and Lee Petty took the checkered flag side by side. Originally, NASCAR had declared Beauchamp the winner, but Petty protested, claiming that he had beat Beauchamp to the line. NASCAR requested that any movie footage and pictures of the finish be sent to them. Two days later, they received a photo that showed the cars crossing the line and NASCAR declared Lee Petty the winner of the first Daytona 500. 

Lee Petty, seen here on the original beach course, won the inaugural Daytona 500.


Richard Petty, the son of the already famous Lee Petty, became the 1959 Rookie Of The Year. Richard won his first race in 1960 and his first of seven championships in 1964. However, no other season has ever matched Richard Petty's 1967 season. In 1967, Richard won the championship and a total of 27 of the 48 races on the season schedule. With the 27 victories, which included an impressive 10 consecutive wins, Richard broke Tim Flock's record of 18 wins in a single season. The 1967 season will go down in history as the season that crowned The King.

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