RELATED: NASCAR 101
NASCAR sanctions more than 1,200 races in more than 30 U.S. states, Canada, Mexico and Europe. Known for its passionate fan base, one-of-a-kind playoff format, development of the modern sports sponsorship and commitment to enhancing auto racing through technology, NASCAR produces many of the most highly attended sporting events in the world.
NASCAR did not gain the success or popularity it has today overnight. The sport has evolved to entertain its fans and continuously prosper.
Early stock car racing
In the years immediately following World War II, stock car racing was experiencing the greatest popularity it had ever seen. Tracks throughout the country were drawing more drivers and bigger crowds.
Nonetheless, there was a serious lack of organization. From track to track, rules were different. Some tracks were makeshift facilities, producing one big show at a county fair or something similar to capitalize on the crowds flocking to the events. Other tracks were more suited to handle the cars, but not the crowds. Some could manage both, but did little to adhere to rules set by other tracks.
Bill France Sr. organizes NASCAR
In December of 1947, Bill France Sr., of Daytona Beach, Florida, organized a meeting at the Streamline Hotel, across the street from the Atlantic Ocean, to discuss the problems facing stock car racing.
France had come to Florida from Washington, D.C., in 1935. He operated a local service station and also promoted races on the city’s famed beach-road courses, often racing himself. He was a man of strong will — and ambition. Thus, by the time that meeting at the Streamline Hotel was completed, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing was born. Few knew when the meeting adjourned if the organization would be successful. In fact, there were skeptics who believed it never would work.
Not even France, who believed a sanctioning body was exactly what stock car racing needed, could have envisioned what NASCAR has become today.
Things came together quickly. The first NASCAR-sanctioned race was held on Daytona’s beach-road course Feb. 15, 1948, just two months after the organizational meeting. Red Byron, a stock car legend from Atlanta, won the event in a Ford Modified. Six days later on Feb. 21, 1948, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing was incorporated.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is born
It was 1949, however, when what is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the premier racing division in America, was born.
Jim Roper of Great Bend, Kansas, was the winner of the first ever NASCAR Grand National event, held at the Charlotte Fairgrounds on June 19, 1949. A tremendous crowd attended the event to see race cars that looked like passenger cars compete door-to-door. The new racing series was off-and-running. And it was an immediate success.
Plans were made to bring bigger, faster races to bigger, hungrier crowds and less than a year later (1950), the country’s first asphalt superspeedway, Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, opened its doors for the new division.
The first decade for the premier series was one of tremendous growth. Characters became heroes and fans hung on every turn of the wheel, watching drivers manhandle cars at speeds fans wished they could legally run themselves.
Names like Lee Petty, Fireball Roberts, Buck Baker, Herb Thomas, the Flock brothers, Bill Rexford, Paul Goldsmith and others became as well-known to race fans as Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider were to baseball fans.
Daytona International Speedway ushers in a new age of speed
Looking to the future, and invigorated by the success of Darlington, Bill France Sr. began construction of a 2.5-mile, high-banked superspeedway four miles off the beach in Daytona Beach.
France had helped lead the fight to keep racing affiliated with the city. When those looking to set land speed records began opting for the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah so the incoming and outgoing tides at Daytona Beach would not be a factor, the city wanted to maintain one of its main attractions — fast cars and the beach. By the end of NASCAR’s first decade, the city not only had held on to its racing roots, but had outgrown the beach and, in 1959, moved events to Daytona International Speedway. With its long back straightaway and sweeping high-banked turns of more than 30 degrees, the 2.5-mile tri-oval was one of the largest speedways in the world.
The first Daytona 500
In the first race, fans were treated to something that each year still brings millions of fans to NASCAR races — close competition. The first Daytona 500 didn’t end, technically, for three days. It took that long for NASCAR officials to study a photograph of the finish between Petty and Johnny Beauchamp before declaring Petty the winner.
The hook had been set.
The following year (1960), superspeedways were opened just outside Atlanta and Charlotte. ABC televised the 1961 Firecracker 250 from Daytona Beach as part of its “Wide World of Sports.”
As the sport expanded, new heroes emerged.
Lee Petty’s son Richard, who would eventually be referred to as “The King” of stock car racing, Buddy Baker, Cale Yarborough, Ned Jarrett, David Pearson and Bobby Allison led NASCAR racing through an era that featured a schedule of more than 60 races a year on tracks from Florida to California to Maine.
Fan interest grew and the demand for bigger, faster tracks was heard. In 1969, France opened the 2.66-mile Alabama International Motor Speedway (now known as Talladega Superspeedway), the largest and fastest motorsports oval in the world. New tracks sprang up in Brooklyn, Michigan, (70 miles Southwest of Detroit), Dover, Delaware, (between Philadelphia and Baltimore) and Pocono, Pennsylvania, two hours from New York City).
Bill France Jr. becomes NASCAR President
The decade of the 1970s brought further change, including one at the top when Bill France Sr. passed the torch of leadership of NASCAR to his son Bill Jr. on Jan. 10, 1972.
Corporate sponsorship of the series by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company through its Winston brand began in 1971 and NASCAR’s premier division became known as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Reynolds’ involvement later led to the NASCAR Winston West Series and the NASCAR Winston Racing Series (now NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series) — weekly events held at tracks nationwide with drivers vying for 10 regional titles and a national championship.
In 1976, NASCAR’s premier division took the lead in worldwide motorsports attendance for the first time with more than 1.4 million spectators making their way to events, according to figures from the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. That lead never has been relinquished.
Television exposure grew as well. The 1979 Daytona 500 became the first 500-mile race in history to be telecast live in its entirety. In 1981, NASCAR moved its annual awards ceremony to New York City from Daytona Beach for the first time.
By the mid 1980s, Fortune 500 companies not only were involved in sponsoring NASCAR, but individual races and teams as well.
Drivers such as Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Bill Elliott and others were rising to challenge Petty and Allison and Yarborough, displaying the colors of detergents and coffees and cereals on the hoods of their cars while doing it.
Major consumer packaging companies like Kellogg’s, General Foods, and Procter & Gamble were realizing what Bill France knew in the late 1940s — stock car racing had a fervently loyal fan following.
The XFINITY Series debuts
In 1982, NASCAR consolidated the Late Model Sportsman Division into a new series. Since rising costs had made weekly racing for the Late Model stock cars difficult, the idea behind the creation of the series was to build big races, and to bring all of the regional-stars of the series together for all of the races.
Anheuser-Busch, Inc. of St. Louis, Missouri, became the sponsor of the new NASCAR Budweiser Late Model Sportsman Series. In 1984, the Busch brand took over the sponsorship in what would become the NASCAR Busch Series. Starting in 2007, the series became known as the NASCAR Nationwide Series, via a new sponsorship deal with one the world’s largest insurance providers. At the start of 2015, the series changed to the NASCAR XFINITY Series.
Expansion continues through the 1990s, includes Indianapolis
By 1989, just 10 years after the first 500-mile race to be broadcast live flag-to-flag, every race on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule was televised, nearly all of them live.
As the decade of the 1990s began, perhaps no one but the sports visionaries could have imagined the growth NASCAR would undertake. Without question it was an exciting time. NASCAR began its meteoric rise by expansion in 1993 to New Hampshire International Speedway — 70 miles north of Boston — and in 1994, to the famed “Brickyard,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The Camping World Truck Series starts up
In May of 1994, NASCAR introduced a new series, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, involving full-sized, full-bodied pickup trucks. After several exhibition events, the first points event in the new series was held in February of 1995 in what would become the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
The NASCAR Lifestyle becomes a national phenomenon
At the same time, NASCAR’s at-track attendance was growing monumentally. The NASCAR Lifestyle was becoming a national phenomenon with cover stories in Forbes and Sports Illustrated. To help feed the tremendous growth, NASCAR launched its official website in 1995 (www.nascar.com) and in 1997, NASCAR branched out again, adding races in top 10 markets like Los Angeles, Dallas/Ft. Worth and a second date in New Hampshire.
The 1998 season marked the celebration of NASCAR’s 50th anniversary, honoring NASCAR’s past, present and future. NASCAR’s top division expanded once again, this time to Las Vegas.
From 1993 to 1998, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series‘ at-track attendance alone grew 57 percent (by 2.2 million) to over 6.3 million and its top three divisions combined grew a staggering 80 percent (by 4.1 million), to over 9.3 million.
Topping off NASCAR’s explosion in the ’90s was the announcement in November 1999 of a consolidated television package with FOX Sports/FX and NBC Sports/TNT for NASCAR’s top two series beginning in 2001. At the same time, DaimlerChrysler announced intentions to return its Dodge nameplate to NASCAR’s top division for 2001, after a 15-year hiatus. In 2007, a new TV package was introduced, with ABC and ESPN returning to the NASCAR fold.
As the sport’s fan base grew, NASCAR grew internally as well. In November of 2000, Mike Helton became the third president in NASCAR history as the torch of leadership passed to a non-France family member for the first time. Bill France became Chairman and CEO, leading the newly created NASCAR Board of Directors.
By the turn of the century, new stars emerged such as Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and second-generation driver Dale Jarrett. NASCAR’s drivers, teams and tracks once again saw unprecedented exposure, this time with the aid of an expanded 36-race schedule and its new television package in 2001.
The TV story was proving a remarkable success as viewership for the Daytona 500 grew 48 percent (over 6 million) to 18.7 million viewers between 1993 and 2002. When FOX Sports aired its first Daytona 500 in 2001, viewership increased 32 percent (4.1 million) to over 17 million from the 2000 broadcast.
Brian France becomes NASCAR Chairman and CEO
In 2003, NASCAR made two major announcements to help the dawn of the new era become even clearer. NASCAR announced in June that Nextel would become the new series sponsor in 2004, replacing R.J. Reynolds’ Winston brand after 33 years. Three months later in September, Brian Z. France was named as NASCAR’s CEO and Chairman of the Board replacing his father, Bill France.
A steady parade of changes has followed. The Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup was announced at the start of 2004, ushering in a new format to determine the champion of NASCAR’s premier series. In 2006, Toyota announced a move into all three of NASCAR’s national series.
In 2007 it was announced that the premier series’ name would be changed to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series beginning in 2008. In addition, Nationwide Insurance was announced as the replacement for Anheuser-Busch as main sponsor of NASCAR’s series born from Late Models in 1982.
The 2007 season also marked the beginning of NASCAR’s new car in premier series competition, a car designed to be safer than ever while also reducing costs to compete — all the while enhancing the racing itself. The new car could not slow down Jimmie Johnson who captured a record five consecutive championships from 2006-2010, becoming only the second driver to win three consecutive titles (Cale Yarborough 1976-1978).
During the late 2000s, NASCAR began further expanding by creating series internationally. The NASCAR Canadian Tire Series and the NASCAR Toyota Series (Mexico) launched their inaugural seasons in 2007. The sanctioning body extended its reach across the Atlantic when it founded the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series in 2012. Today, NASCAR runs three national series, four regional series, one local grassroots series and three international series.
Winning formula: Gen-6 car, new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format, new series sponsorship
In 2013, NASCAR continued enhance its racing, debuting its Gen-6 car that enhanced body designs to better resemble the cars found in showrooms across the United States and improve on-track performance. NASCAR also secured its television rights through 2024 by agreeing to a 10-year rights deal with NBC Universal and an eight-year rights extension with FOX.
To emphasize winning races, NASCAR created a new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff format for 2014 and unveiled its new grid format for advancing drivers.
In 2015, XFINITY replaced Nationwide as the title sponsor for the series “Where Names are Made.”
Late in 2016, France would introduce Monster Energy as only the third premier series entitlement sponsor in league history. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series would help usher in a new era of NASCAR, which included an enhanced-race format that saw each race run in three stages.