The Rise Of A Racing Empire
In 1947, the sport of stock car racing was becoming extremely popular and beginning to draw large crowds of spectators. More drivers began taking an interest due to the increasing fan popularity. Cohesiveness, however, did not exist as rules differed from one racetrack to the next. Several tracks were built to produce one big show at a county fair, or similar event, in order to capitalize on the crowds of fans that were beginning to form. Other tracks, however, were built more toward handling the cars and not the crowds. Some tracks could accommodate both the fans and the cars, but did little to adhere to the rules governing the neighboring tracks.
In late 1947, on a December day in Florida, Bill France Sr. organized a meeting at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach. His focus for the meeting was to discuss the matters facing the future of stock car racing. From this meeting emerged, what is now known as, NASCAR (The National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing). When the meeting adjourned, few people had faith in the new organization or it?s future. France, however, knew otherwise. In fact, he believed that a sanctioning body was exactly what the sport needed, but even he could not have imagined what he created on that December day.
The sport of NASCAR began to take shape rather quickly. After two months, the inaugural NASCAR-sanctioned race was held on Daytona?s Beach Course. Red Byron, a stock car legend, drove his Ford Modified to win the event on February 15, 1948. It wasn?t until the following year that what we now know as NASCAR Nextel Cup Series began. The first ever NASCAR Grand National (now known as Nextel Cup) event was held at the Charlotte, North Carolina fairgrounds. A huge crowd gathered to see Jim Roper of Kansas win this historic race.
The new series was an instant success and plans were ongoing to bring in larger crowds, more drivers and faster races. In 1950, Darlington Raceway, the country?s first asphalt superspeedway, opened it?s doors for the new division. The first decade for NASCAR was one of tremendous growth and popularity. Drivers became heroes and skeptics became race fans. Names like Lee Petty, Fireball Roberts and Buck Baker were to racing as Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and ?The Duke? were to baseball.
With the growing success of this new sport, Bill France Sr. began construction of a 2.5 mile, high-banked superspeedway located four miles from the beach in Daytona. France fought to keep racing affiliated with Daytona as others looked to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah to avoid the outgoing tides at Daytona Beach. Despite the desire of the city of Daytona hold onto it?s beach racing attraction, NASCAR quickly outgrew the beach. In 1949, NASCAR moved it?s events to the Daytona International Speedway. The first Daytona 500 continued for 3 days due to a dispute over the actual winner, which was later proven to be Lee Petty, after careful study of a photograph of the finish.
In 1960, superspeedways opened just outside of Atlanta, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1961, ABC televised a race from Daytona. In 1969, Alabama International Motor Speedway (now known as Talladega Superspeedway) was opened by Bill France Sr. In later years, Bill Sr. passed the torch of leadership to his son, Bill Jr. and corporate sponsorships began to arise as NASCAR went on to become the leader in worldwide motorsports attendance. In 1979, the Daytona 500 was telecast in it?s entirety. By 1989, every race on the NASCAR schedule was broadcast.
Since the beginning of NASCAR, new additions have been added to include the NASCAR Craftsman Truck and Busch Grand National series. New drivers emerge every year to take their shot at stardom. For many, it?s a lifelong dream to drive NASCAR and compete for the glorious title of ?Champion.? At the end of the season, points are tallied to see who has ran the most consistently throughout the year and that person becomes that year?s NASCAR champion for their respected series.
With the extreme growth of NASCAR through the years, fans have demanded more opportunities to enjoy their favorite sport. The organization heard their voices and decided to build NASCAR Thunder, a chain of officially-licensed apparel and souvenir stores, and the NASCAR Café, which incorporates racing with dining for a full racing experience for all NASCAR fans. After 58 years, the sport continues to grow with fans who travel across the country to see their favorite driver chase the checkered flag and, ultimately, a NASCAR championship.
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