THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: FEBRUARY 21, 1948

NASCAR Founded

nascar-founded-history-daytonaNASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) is the sanctioning organization responsible for the United States’s most popular automobile racing series. Although production automobiles raced long before NASCAR’s incorporation in 1948 and still compete under its auspices, the acronym has come to stand for stock car racing in the United States. From its origins in the South in the 1940s, NASCAR has grown to become the second-most-watched professional sport (after football) with 75 million fans and designs on international growth.

According to popular legend, early stock car racers were bold, fast drivers who worked for moonshiners, outrunning federal agents to deliver untaxed liquor. In their spare time, these drivers began to compete for bragging rights on small dirt tracks throughout the South. The drivers and the spectators were predominantly white working-class men who reveled in the “outlaw” persona of the rough, tough man of honor. Although this image contains a grain of truth, it overlooks the facts that racing in the South crossed socioeconomic lines, and that other regions of the country also had thriving local stock car racing scenes.

Regardless of geography, many local races were organized by scam artists who often changed the rules in order to declare a particular winner and
sometimes absconded with the prize money. Furthermore, every track boasted its own “national champion.” To manage this chaos, a group of 35 drivers, car mechanics and promoters involved in stock car racing met at a hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida, on December 14, 1947. They established guidelines for organizing races as well as a points system for deciding a single national champion and on February 21, 1948, NASCAR was incorporated.

In addition to the codification of rules, two other important decisions were made at that meeting that would contribute to NASCAR’s survival. The first was the election of “Big Bill” France as president and second to race only American late-model passenger cars, rather than the more aerodynamically and technologically advanced racing machines used in “open wheel” racing series, including the Indianapolis 500. France was a mechanic from Washington, D.C., who had moved to Daytona, where he raced and promoted races on the beach. His knowledge of racing and its early personalities, his knack for savvy business decisions and his iron-willed determination enabled NASCAR to weather numerous economic and personnel crises in subsequent decades. It is no exaggeration to say that for its first 25 years, France was NASCAR.

Miller, J. D. (2013). NASCAR. In S. A. Riess (Ed.), Sports in America from Colonial Times to the Twenty-First Century: An Encyclopedia (pp. 757-762). Armonk, NY: Sharpe Reference.


Learn more about stock car racing in America »

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