NASCAR is born
A grand idea must start somewhere, right? In NASCAR’s case, the dream started on a mild December day at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida. Spearheading the effort was Bill France Sr., a 38-year-old racing enthusiast who helped promote races on the Daytona sand dating back to the late 1930s. And so, France Sr. and 35 influential leaders within the burgeoning sport met to consolidate and coordinate stock car racing under a single and unified banner.
NASCAR’s first “Strictly Stock” race
While NASCAR ran its first race more than a year before this occasion– Feb. 15, 1948, on the beach road course in Daytona – this date holds significance for the first race under the NASCAR “Strictly Stock” banner – the eventual predecessor to the NASCAR Cup Series. The inaugural track of choice to begin the eight-race run that year came at a 0.75-mile dirt track known at the time as Charlotte Fairgrounds Speedway. With 13,000 in attendance, a field of 33 took to the track for 197 laps, where No. 34 driver Jim Roper, in his 1949 Ford Lincoln, eventually prevailed en route to the first victory in the series.
NASCAR’s first last-lap pass for the win
Every sport has that Hollywood-style ending. In football, it’s the Hail Mary. In basketball, it’s the half-court shot at the buzzer. In racing, the equivalent feat likely comes from passing the leader on the last lap of the race to snap victory from the jaws of defeat. For Bill Blair, such an opportunity presented itself as Fonty Flock (pictured) ran out of fuel on the last lap on Daytona’s Beach-Road course to give the former the win. The race was the first NASCAR Grand National race to be determined by a last-lap pass.
First Daytona 500
Beach racing certainly brought public spectacle. The problem, however, was that the spectacle was becoming almost too big. Spreading land usage from an expanding population and ever-increasing race crowds made for crowding circumstances. And so, Bill France Sr. looked to find a solution. Initial proposals and talks in 1953-54 eventually led to land clearing in 1957 and the first practice on the 2.5-mile tri-oval on Feb. 6, 1959. Two weeks later, Lee Petty crossed the checkered flag ahead of 58 other eager racers in front of a crowd of 41,921. And so, the “Great American Race” was born.
Wendell Scott makes history
The 42-year-old mechanic and World War II veteran came close to winning several times previously. Heading into the 1964 NASCAR Grand National Series, Scott had already pocketed 34 top-10 and five top-five finishes. In fact, his pole win on July 20, 1962, at Savannah Speedway marked the first time a Black driver claimed the pole position in qualifying. However, a win still eluded him. Not for long, though. In what would be the only NASCAR win of his career, Scott became the first Black driver to win in NASCAR’s national series with his showing in the 1964 Jacksonville 400 at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida.
First televised race from start to finish
Richard Petty only led 12 laps – and avoided an on-track incident between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison on the last lap – to capture the win during the second race to open the 1979 NASCAR Winston Cup Series. However, the race marked another crown achievement for a sport looking to grow on a national scale. To the joy of television viewers across the country, CBS Sports presented the first flag-to-flag telecast of the Daytona 500. It was the first time in history that a 500-mile NASCAR event was televised by a major network in its entirety. When a fight broke out between Yarborough and the Allison brothers after the incident, it only added to the spectacle.
Richard Petty wins seventh Cup title
A tightrope couldn’t begin to describe the Richard Petty vs. Darrell Waltrip race (no pun intended) for the 1979 crown. Both drivers ranked inside the top four in practically every counting stat (wins, top 10s, top fives, laps led and average finish, to name a few). And while Waltrip was quickly rising through the NASCAR ranks as a championship contender, it was Petty who found just enough separation in the points standings (4,830 compared to 4,819) to net him his seventh Cup title. The mark remains tied for the most in Cup history to date.
Richard Petty wins 200th career Cup race
An Independence Day celebration was supplemented with a convincing showing at Daytona International Speedway by Richard Petty, who secured his 10th career Cup win at the track with the finish. But the individual win added to the luster surrounding “the King” even more than simply being a victory on a holiday. The win was Petty’s 200th in Cup and would wind up being his last in the premier series. It also came with President Ronald Reagan in attendance. The 200 mark remains tops among Cup drivers.
Richard Petty races in last, Gordon races in first
A season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway had title aspirations on the line, and it culminated with Alan Kulwicki winning the 1992 Cup. But the race on the 1.5-mile course additionally saw the end of one era and the beginning of a new one – the race was 55-year-old Richard Petty’s last one, but it was 21-year-old Jeff Gordon’s first. Even if it wasn’t known at the time, one racing legend departed while another was just entering. And the rest was history.
NASCAR holds exhibition in Japan
Going international might be one hurdle. But taking NASCAR overseas? Well, that was a different challenge entirely. But it was an opportunity to put on an exhibition in Japan. Enter the NASCAR Suzuka Thunder Special, which saw cars get shipped in containers and a field of 27 eventually come to the 1.394-kilometer road course in Suzuka Circuitland. Rusty Wallace led 84 of 100 laps en route to the win. Another contest on the same track was run on Nov. 23, 1997.
NASCAR Research and Development Center opens
Located in Concord, North Carolina, the NASCAR Research and Development Center has become a focal point in the sport’s constant effort to improve driver safety. Following the death of Dale Earnhardt on Feb. 18, 2001, a more concerted mission to improve this safety aspect came to a head with the creation of the facility spanning approximately 60,000 square feet. From testing engines to assessing barriers, the NASCAR R&D Center has both a behind-the-scenes and up-close-and-personal force toward progressing the sport in a safer direction.
Five greats get inducted into first Hall of Fame class
One day after the All-Star Race – and two weeks after the Hall of Fame’s grand opening – five individuals were inducted into NASCAR’s first-ever Hall of Fame. The quintet – Dale Earnhardt, Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., Junior Johnson and Richard Petty – helped personify appreciation for longtime contributors in helping the sport grow. Spanning more than 13 classes since, 56 drivers, owners, crew chiefs and broadcasters have joined the first five in being permanently etched in NASCAR’s history.
Danica Patrick becomes first woman to win pole award
A disclaimer is needed here as Danica Patrick was not the first woman to compete in the premier national series, nor was she the first to cap off a crowning achievement. After all, in 1977, Janet Guthrie became the first woman to compete in the Daytona 500, where she eventually finished 12th. However, the Roscoe, Illinois, native – and IndyCar standout – did best Guthrie in one category. Whereas Guthrie qualified for the Daytona 500 in 39th, Patrick won the Busch Pole Award, becoming the first female to win a pole in NASCAR premier series history.
Jimmie Johnson becomes third to win seven Cup titles
A dynastic run of five straight Cup championships to close out the 2000s (2006-10) didn’t prevent Jimmie Johnson from striving for more. And Johnson did just that with another title in 2013, followed by another in 2016. With his title win during the latter, the 42-year-old Johnson joined Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt as the only drivers to win a record-tying seven titles in Cup history. Just like that, a dynamic duo became a thunderous trio.
Next Gen car officially takes to track for first time
A nine-year run for the Generation 6 car came to an end following the conclusion of the 2021 NASCAR Cup season. The end of one era, however, started the beginning of another. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic delaying the arrival of the Next Gen car by a full calendar year, the new Gen-7 machine — officially dubbed “Next Gen” — took the NASCAR landscape by storm with its usage during the inaugural Busch Light Clash at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Once the 2022 season concluded, a record-tying 19 drivers could say they won with the vehicle during the regular season.