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The History Of NASCAR Is Soaked In Booze And Danger

The sport traces its roots all the way back to prohibition

Leo Shvedsky
October 15 2021

Formula 1 and NASCAR are both about advancing and promoting motorsport, but the two leagues are leagues apart in their origins and the effect that they have here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. NASCAR is a special American brand of auto enthusiasm.

Interestingly enough both sports began at around the same time, back in 1946-47, but that’s where pretty much all of the similarities end. Where Formula 1 came out of European car manufacturers racing for a top spot, NASCAR, or National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, can trace its roots to slightly more illicit beginnings. 

The Ford Model 18 was a popular choice for bootleggers. Ford Motor Car 

On January 17, 1920, the prohibition on alcohol went into effect, though as we now know quite well this didn’t necessarily prevent people from desiring a good spirit every now and again. Nor did it prevent people from making said spirits and serving them to the folks who were seeking them. But it wasn’t as simple as just going down to your local bodega and grabbing a pint.  

A typical early stock car race. 

Speakeasies, or undercover bars, sprang up all over the country, but they had to be supplied with the stuff that forced them under the covers. Different places and people found different ways to transport the illegal potent potables, and that is the stem of NASCAR’s humble beginnings.  

From Maine to California industrious bootleggers and auto enthusiasts began to soup-up their cars in order to outrun law enforcement when they were transporting liquor. Before long enthusiasm for going faster than the other guy reached a saturation point and speedster bootleggers started racing each other as well as the fuzz. Think Dukes of Hazard but with more DIY. 

Even after prohibition was repealed in 1933, and people could imbibe freely and to their heart’s content, if not their livers’, the tradition of racing modified “stock cars” as they came to be called continued. The need for speed didn't go away just because there were no more police to outrun. After all, we are talking about car enthusiasts with an instinct for danger and an instinct to rev engines so loud their eardrums explode. 

Voila! Shutterstock

Eventually, a man named Bill Francis Sr. saw an opportunity and envisaged an organized sport. So, in 1947 a meeting was held at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona, Florida, and NASCAR was officially born. At first, it was just a few races at ramshackle speedways, but as time went on and people came to love the sport it grew to what it is now.  

Today TV viewership for races can exceed the two-million mark, sometimes nearing three million viewers. Compare that with the 900k that Formula 1 gets in the U.S. and you start to get an idea of how popular this sport has become here. Not bad for something that started out as a way to haul booze! 
Related: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s ‘Lost Speedways’ Is A Nostalgia Trip 



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