Cars

The Illegal Origins of NASCAR

NASCAR is one of the largest auto racing leagues in the United States. Founded over 70 years ago in Daytona, it’s home to 13 different racing competitions, including the Monster Energy Cup Series and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. Each division showcases the unique racing capabilities of many types of vehicles.

NASCAR is still extremely popular today, but many people don’t know the surprising history behind how the organization got started. The original founders were not just car enthusiasts: they were a team of rum-running criminals who helped illegally distribute moonshine during the Prohibition era. Without their innovations in the technology of fast cars, NASCAR likely would not be around today.

Prohibition

In January 1920, a nationwide prohibition on alcohol came into effect. During this time, any manufacturing and selling of alcohol was strictly illegal, unless it was being used for medicinal purposes.

Of course, this didn’t stop locals from producing their own alcoholic beverages, which became known as “moonshine”. The selling of moonshine also helped save farmers from the financial struggles resulting from the Great Depression. Smuggling alcohol from illegal stills or regions in Canada, also known as “bootlegging”, became a major source of revenue and business during the Prohibition era.

Fast cars

During this time, moonshine runners would pack their cars full to the brim with cases of alcohol. In order to evade highway patrol officers and revenuers, runners needed to have fast cars. Back in the ’20s, the average max speed of a Ford was 60 mph, so the moonshine drivers had to get creative. 

They tuned up their cars’ engines so that they could achieve higher speeds and handle breakneck turns without overheating. These drivers sped through the Appalachian mountains during the night with tons of flammable liquid in the trunk. Not to mention, this was often without headlights to avoid detection from the law.

In addition to making the Ford’s V-8 engine even more powerful, some of these cars were even equipped with oil slicks or smoke screens to slow down police during a chase.

How whiskey cars became race cars

While the tricked-out cars did an excellent job of transporting moonshine, drivers found that they enjoyed the act of simply driving the vehicles. Maneuvering the cars at high speeds while staying ahead of their pursuers required a lot of skill. Sometimes, runners would even get together and challenge each other to see who could complete a run faster.

In the 1930s, it started to become popular to have stock car races at local racetracks and fairgrounds. Some people even paid to watch the drivers.

The formation of NASCAR

Prohibition was repealed in December of 1933, but the moonshine runners continued to race their cars. One of the earliest stock car races took place at the Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta, George in 1938. The event had 20,000 fans in attendance and was won by Carl D. “Lightning” Lloyd Seay. Seay was a legendary racer during his time. 

While these races were enjoyable to both the drivers and the audience, they lacked any official racing rules. Additionally, there was no set of rules regarding how the promoters and owners of the race tracks would pay the drivers.

One racer, Bill France Sr. (or “Big Bill”), stepped up to fix these problems. On December 14, 1947, France called together a team of mechanics, stock car drivers, and car owners to lay out the groundwork for future races.

They created uniform rules for each track, discussed guaranteed payment for the racers, and ensured that each driver would have proper insurance. After everything was finalized, NASCAR was officially founded on February 21, 1948. The league continues to hold high-intensity races to this day, with no sign of stopping.