NASCAR’s Enduring Popularity

Conner Terrible, Featured Writer

Imagine you are going 60 mph on a freeway in 1938. The trees and other objects are blurring by. You can hear the screaming of the police’s lights behind you. You have your lights turned off, so it’s harder for the police to spot you. You are carrying illegal alcohol in the back of your car. You take a sharp right and the police lose sight of you, and you are on your way to deliver the alcohol to the buyer.  Once you deliver the alcohol you drive back to transport more alcohol. You are driving to deliver the alcohol with your engine roaring. Trees and other objects are blurring by and you see a sharp left turn ahead. You brake, your body slightly moving forward from the pressure, and “BANG!” Your tire pops and the pressure is lifted off and you crash.  Your chest slams into the wheel, and the pain shoots through your body. You are arrested and given medical treatment in jail.

These were some of the most common things that would happen to rum runners during the Prohibition era. The runners upgraded their cars to outrun the police. These upgraded cars inspired NASCAR, a stock racing championship based in the United States of America. The first NASCAR race was at the Daytona Speedway in 1948. The winner of this race was a former rum runner named Red Byron. This rich history of NASCAR with roots in prohibition has largely affected its popularity, along with the work from the NASCAR marketing team. 

NASCAR may have never become a sport without prohibition. The rum runners would pay their mechanics to upgrade their car to outrun the police. These cars looked normal on the outside but had very strong engines. Rum runners would have to use all their skills and expertise to run from the police. After the ban on alcohol was lifted, there were still rum runners. The buyers thought this was easier than paying for the sales tax. The rum-runners would sometimes organize small, informal races for fun. After seeing that the rum-runners were racing in casual races on regular roads, the city of Daytona, Florida organized the first organized stock race. They did this to promote their city. Daytona ended up losing money but a rum-runner named Lloyd Seay won the race. 

A mechanic named Bill France helped start the second attempt at a NASCAR race in 1948. Bill France was also a rum-runner that upgraded his car to outrun the police. In the first race in Daytona in 1936, he came in 5th. After that race, he was tasked with making NASCAR an actual sport. After 12 years, Bill France started NASCAR again by creating a single set of rules for all race tracks to organize NASCAR into a formal sport. The second attempt at NASCAR’s first race ended with Red Byron, a former rum-runner, winning and solidifying NASCAR as a sport.

How did NASCAR become mainstream? NASCAR grew in popularity and became mainstream after the 1979 Daytona 500. It started with a crash between Cale Yarborough, Donnie Allison, and Bobby Allison. They hit a slick spot on the pavement and slid into each other and slid into the grass. Donnie went a lap down while Bobby and Yarborough went down two laps. On the last lap, Donnie and Yarborough were half a lap in the lead and fighting for the win. Donnie was ahead and went to cover off Yarborough to the inside but, he was a bit too late, and they crashed and slid down to the infield, leaving Richard Petty to win the race. After the crash, the two drivers got out of their cars and started fighting. This event brought popularity to NASCAR because of how interesting the race was. The Daytona 500 is also the most viewed NASCAR race, so this race brought more people in to watch NASCAR.

Why is NASCAR so popular? One reason NASCAR is so popular is because of its rich history. One reason is NASCAR originated from bootlegging. There are a lot of other things about its history that make it popular. Like the crash between Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough. NASCAR is particularly popular in the South East. It is this way because that is where the first NASCAR race was. Another reason coming from the origins of NASCAR is, bootlegging was prominent in the south. This made people believe that NASCAR was their heritage and think of it as their sport.

What are some other reasons why NASCAR is so popular? NASCAR has a lot of different people that can like it. “No Matter what your niche is, we got it” (Justin Swilling, NASCAR Driver, and Team Marketing.) Some examples of this are: if you like science you can see the aerodynamics of the car and how different setups affect the outcome of the race. Another example is that if you are an adrenaline junkie you can watch big wrecks and cars going at high speeds.  Another reason people like NASCAR is because of the drama. There is a lot of drama in most sports but the difference between how popular the drama gets is from the media. This shows all the work NASCAR has put in to keep their sport watched.

But why is it so popular when there are so many other motorsports out there? Let’s start with two of the most popular worldwide motorsports vs. NASCAR. Rally and F1. Rally and F1 are popular for different reasons. Rally is popular because of speed in tight spaces, and F1 for just raw speed. The reason these haven’t become as popular as NASCAR is because they are based in different countries even though there are races in the U.S. Then you have IndyCar, a motorsport like F1. IndyCar is really fast but not as fast as F1. IndyCars are faster than NASCARs but not as popular. The reason is that NASCAR was born in bootlegging.

In the end, NASCAR is a very popular sport with very interesting roots. NASCAR started with people upgrading cars to outrun the police. Now the descendants of those drivers are proving themselves on a racetrack for fame and fortune. It all comes full circle as both sets of drivers would push their cars to the limit to achieve a goal, and in both times money and recognition were involved. There have been many drivers in the history of NASCAR, but they all seek one thing, fame and fortune.