The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) is the largest sanctioning body of stock cars in the United States. The three largest racing series sanctioned by NASCAR are the Sprint Cup, the Nationwide Series and the Craftsman Truck Series. It also oversees NASCAR Local Racing, the Whelen Modified Tour, and the Whelen All-American Series. NASCAR sanctions over 1,500 races at over 100 tracks in 39 states, Canada, and Mexico. From 1996 to 1998, NASCAR held exhibition races in Japan and an exhibition race in Australia in 1988.
With roots as regional entertainment in the Southeastern U.S., NASCAR has grown to become the second-most popular professional sport in terms of television ratings inside the U.S., ranking behind only the National Football League. Internationally, NASCAR races are broadcast in over 150 countries. It holds 17 of the top 20 attended sporting events in the U.S.,1 and has 75 million fans who purchase over $3 billion in annual licensed product sales. These fans are considered the most brand-loyal in all of sports and as a result, Fortune 500 companies sponsor NASCAR more than any other governing body. In 2007 NASCAR made a profit of just under $3 billion, and was the second richest motorsport (Formula One was first).
NASCAR's headquarters are located in Daytona Beach, Florida, although it also maintains offices in four North Carolina cities: Charlotte, Mooresville, Concord, and Conover. Regional offices are also located in New York City, Los Angeles, Arkansas, and international offices in Mexico City and Toronto. Additionally, owing to its southern roots, all but a handful of NASCAR teams are still based in North Carolina, especially near Charlotte.
Stock car racing in the United States has its origins in bootlegging during Prohibition, when drivers ran bootleg whiskey made in Appalachia. Bootleggers needed to distribute their illicit products, and they typically used small, fast vehicles to better evade the police. Many of the drivers would modify their cars for speed and handling, as well as increased cargo capacity, and some of them came to love the fast-paced driving down twisty mountain roads. One of the main 'strips' in Knoxville, Tennessee, had its beginning as a mecca for aspiring bootlegging drivers.
The repeal of Prohibition in 1933 dried up some of their business, but by then Southerners had developed a taste for moonshine, and a number of the drivers continued "runnin' shine," this time evading the "revenuers" who were attempting to tax their operations. The cars continued to improve, and by the late 1940s, races featuring these cars were being run for pride and profit. These races were popular entertainment in the rural Southern United States, and they are most closely associated with the Wilkes County region of North Carolina. Most races in those days were of modified cars. Street vehicles were lightened and reinforced.
Mechanic William France, Sr., moved to Daytona Beach, Florida, from Washington, DC, in 1935 to escape the Great Depression. He was familiar with the history of the area from the land speed record attempts. France entered the 1936 Daytona event, finishing fifth. He took over running the course in 1938. He promoted a few races before World War II.
France had the notion that people would enjoy watching "stock cars" race. Drivers were frequently victimized by unscrupulous promoters who would leave events with all the money before drivers were paid. In 1947, he decided this racing would not grow without a formal sanctioning organization, standardized rules, regular schedule, and an organized championship. On December 14 1947, France began talks with other influential racers and promoters at the Ebony Bar at the Streamline Hotel at Daytona Beach, Florida, that ended with the formation of NASCAR on February 21 1948.
NASCAR was founded by William France, Sr., on February 21 1948, with the help of several other drivers of the time. The points system was written on a bar room napkin. The original plans for NASCAR included three distinct divisions: Modified, Roadster, and Strictly Stock. The Modified and Roadster classes were seen as more attractive to fans. It turned out that NASCAR fans wanted nothing to do with the Roadsters, which fans perceived as a Northeast or Midwest series. The Strictly Stock division was put on hold as American automobile manufacturers were unable to produce family sedans quickly enough to keep up with post-World War II demand. The 1948 schedule featured 52 Modified dirt track races. The sanctioning body hosted its first event at Daytona Beach on February 15 1948. Red Byron beat Marshall Teague in the Modified division race. Byron won the 1948 national championship. Things had changed dramatically by 1949, and the Strictly Stock division was able to debut with a exhibition in February near Miami.
The first Commissioner of NASCAR was Erwin "Cannonball" Baker. A former stock car, motorcycle, and open-wheel racer who competed in the Indianapolis 500 and set over one hundred land speed records. Cannonball Baker earned most of his fame for his transcontinental speed runs. Baker would prove a car's worth by driving it from New York to Los Angeles. After his death, the famous transcontinental race the 'Cannonball Run' and the film that was inspired by it were both named in his honor. Baker is enshrined in the Automotive Hall of Fame, The Motorcycle Hall of Fame, The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame, and The NASCAR Hall of Fame. This level of honor and success in each diverse racing association earned Baker the title "King of the Road".
In the early 1950s the United States Navy stationed Bill France, Jr., at the Moffett Federal Airfield in northern California. His father asked him to look up Bob Barkhimer in San Jose, California. Barkhimer was a star of midget car racing from the World War II era, and later ran about 22 different speedways as the head of the California Stock Car Racing Association. Young Bill developed a relationship with Bob Barkhimer and his partner, Margo Burke. He went to events with them, stayed weekends with them and generally became very familiar with racing on the west coast. "Barky," as he was called by his friends, journeyed to Daytona Beach and met with Bill France, Sr. In the spring of 1954, NASCAR became the stock car sanctioning body on the Pacific Coast under Barky.
One of the tracks used in the inaugural season is still on today's premier circuit: Martinsville Speedway. Another old track which is still in use is Darlington Raceway, which opened in 1950. (The oldest track on today's Sprint Cup circuit is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway which dates back to 1909; however, the first Brickyard 400 did not take place until 1994.)
Most races were on half-mile to one-mile (800 to 1600 m) oval tracks. However, the first "superspeedway" was built in Darlington, South Carolina, in 1950. This track, at 1.366 miles (2.22 km), was wider, faster and higher-banked than the racers had seen. Darlington was the premier event of the series until 1959. Daytona International Speedway, a 2.5-mile (4 km) high-banked track, opened in 1959, and became the icon of the sport. The track was built on a swamp, so France took a huge risk in building the track.
The first NASCAR competition held outside of the U.S. was in Canada, where on July 1 1952, Buddy Shuman won a 200-lap race on a half-mile (800 m) dirt track in Stamford Park, Ontario, near Niagara Falls.
ABC Sports aired partial or full live telecasts of Grand National races from Talladega, North Wilkesboro, Darlington, Charlotte, and Nashville in 1970. These events were less exciting than many GN races, and ABC abandoned live coverage. Races were instead broadcast, delayed and edited, on the ABC sports variety show "Wide World of Sports."
Finally, in 1979, the Daytona 500 became the first stock car race that was nationally televised from flag to flag on CBS. The leaders going into the last lap, Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison, wrecked on the backstretch while dicing for the lead, allowing Richard Petty to pass them both and win the race. Immediately, Yarborough, Allison, and Allison's brother Bobby were engaged in a fistfight on national television. This underlined the drama and emotion of the sport and increased its broadcast marketability. Luckily for NASCAR, the race coincided with a major snowstorm along the United States' eastern seaboard, successfully introducing much of the captive audience to the sport.
The beginning of the modern era also brought a change in the competitive structure. The purse awarded for championship points accumulated over the course of the season began to be significant. Previously, drivers were mostly concerned about winning individual races. Now, their standing in championship points became an important factor.
The "NASCAR Sprint Cup Series" is the sport's highest level of professional competition. It is consequently the most popular and most profitable NASCAR series. The 2006 Sprint Cup season consisted of 36 races over 10 months, with over $4 million in total prize money at stake at each race. Writers and fans often use "Cup" to refer to the Sprint Cup series and the ambiguous use of "NASCAR" as a synonym for the Sprint Cup series is common. The winner of the most recent season was Jimmie Johnson in 2007; Johnson was also the 2006 champion.
In 2004, NEXTEL took over sponsorship of the premier series from R. J. Reynolds, who had sponsored it as the Winston Cup from 1972 until 2003, and formally renamed it the NEXTEL Cup Series. A new championship points system, "The Chase for the NEXTEL Cup " was also developed, which reset the point standings with ten races to go, making only drivers in the top ten or within 400 points of the leader eligible to win the championship. In 2007, NASCAR announced it was expanding "The Chase" from ten to twelve drivers, eliminating the 400-point cutoff, and giving a ten-point bonus to the top twelve drivers for each of the races they have won out of the first 26. Wins throughout the season will also be worth five more points than in previous seasons. In 2008, the premier series title name became the Sprint Cup Series and The Chase for The NEXTEL Cup became the "Chase for the Sprint Cup", as part of the merger between NEXTEL and Sprint.
The "NASCAR Nationwide Series" is the second-highest level of professional competition in NASCAR. The most recent series champion was Carl Edwards in 2007.
The modern incarnation of this series began in 1982, with sponsorship by Anheuser-Busch Brewing's Budweiser brand. In 1984 it was renamed to the Busch Grand National Series. The Anheuser-Busch sponsorship expired at the end of 2007, and the series is now sponsored by Nationwide Insurance. Nationwide will also become NASCAR's official insurance agency replacing Allstate.
The Nationwide Series is currently the only series of the top three to race outside the United States. The season is a few races shorter than that of the Sprint Cup, and the prize money is significantly lower. However, over the last several years, a number of Sprint Cup drivers have run both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup series events each weekend, using the Nationwide race as a warm-up to the Cup event at the same facility. Detractors of this practice believe this gives the Sprint Cup teams an unfair advantage, and that the presence of the Sprint Cup drivers squeezes out Nationwide Series competitors who would otherwise be able to qualify. These dual-series drivers have been labeled "Buschwhackers", a play on words which combines the original series sponsor's name with the notion of being bushwhacked. In May 2007, NNS director Joe Balash confirmed that NASCAR is exploring options to deal with the Buschwhacker controversy. One of the most often-cited proposals would be for Sprint Cup drivers participating in the Nationwide Series to receive no points for their participation in a Nationwide race. According to NASCAR Chairman Brian France, all options, except an outright ban of Cup competitors, are still being considered.
Beginning in 2009, the Nationwide cars will adapt somewhat to the current "Car of Tomorrow" (or COT) design used by Cup cars, although initially only minor changes will be made. Some critics hope that the discrepancy between the Nationwide and Sprint Cup cars will help solve the Buschwhacker problem by reducing the advantages of running both series.
The '"NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series" features modified pickup trucks. It is one of the three national divisions of NASCAR, together with the Nationwide Series and the Sprint Cup. The most recent series champion was Ron Hornaday in 2007; Hornaday also won championships in 1996 and 1998.
In 1994, NASCAR announced the formation of the NASCAR SuperTruck Series presented by Craftsman. The first series race followed in 1995. In 1996, the series was renamed the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series to emphasize Craftsman's involvement. The series was first considered something of an oddity or a "senior tour" for NASCAR drivers, but eventually grew in popularity and has produced Sprint Cup series drivers who had never raced in the Nationwide Series.
It was reported that Craftsman would pull out as sponsor of the series after the 2008 season.
Many local race tracks across the United States and Canada run under the Whelen All-American Series banner, where local drivers are compared against each other in a formula where the best local track champion of the nation wins the Whelen All-American Weekly Series National Championship. The Whelen All-American series is split into four divisions. Each division champion receives a point-fund money payout and even more goes to the National champion (driver with most points out of the four division winners). The Whelen All-American Series is the base for stock car racing, developing NASCAR names such as Clint Bowyer, Jimmy Spencer, Tony Stewart, the Bodine brothers and many others along the way.
NASCAR also sanctions two regional racing divisions. The Whelen Modified Tour races open-wheel "modified" cars in Northern and Southern divisions. The Camping World Series, which consists of East and West divisions, race cars that are similar to Nationwide Series cars, although they are less powerful. In the past, NASCAR also sanctioned the AutoZone Elite Division, which raced late-model cars that were lighter and less powerful than Sprint Cup cars, and was originally split into four divisions: Northwest, Southwest, Southeast, and Midwest. At the end of 2005, NASCAR announced that the AutoZone Elite Division would be discontinued after the 2006 season due to having trouble securing NASCAR-sanctioned tracks to successfully host AutoZone Elite Division events, plus escalating costs of competing and downsizing of the Division in recent years.
In 2003, NASCAR standardized rules for its AutoZone Elite and Grand National divisions regional touring series as to permit cars in one series to race against cars in another series in the same division. The top 15 (Grand National) or 10 (AutoZone Elite) in each series will race in a one-race playoff, called the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, to determine the annual AutoZone Elite and Grand National champions. This event has been hosted at Irwindale Speedway in California since its inception.
Many drivers move up through the series before reaching the Sprint Cup series. In 2002, over 9,000 drivers had licenses from NASCAR to race at all levels.
The winners of the Dodge Weekly Series National Championship, the four AutoZone Elite Divisions, the two Whelen Modified and Grand National Divisions, and the three national series are invited to New York City in December to participate in Champions Week ceremonies which conclude with the annual awards banquet at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
NASCAR races take place predominantly on oval tracks of 3 or 4 turns, with all turns to the left. Oval tracks are classified as short track (less than 1 mile), intermediate or speedway (1 to 2 miles) or superspeedway (over 2 miles). Road courses are any tracks having both left and right turns. Depending on the track, typical race speeds can vary from at Martinsville to over at Talladega. In the 1980s, the high speeds attained at superspeedways (Daytona and Talladega) forced NASCAR to implement power-reducing measures, resulting in the unique style known as restrictor plate racing.
As of 2008, the Sprint Cup series includes 36 points races, comprising 34 oval-track races (6 short track, 24 intermediate and 4 superspeedway) and 2 road course races. The schedule is one of the longest in motorsports; by comparison, the 2008 schedule for Formula One has 18 races and the IRL schedule has approximately 20 races. Many Cup drivers also participate in Nationwide and Craftsman events, and some drivers, such as Kyle Busch, have run more than 60 NASCAR races in a single year.
NASCAR circuits differ from the rough terrain and sharp turns of Rally, and the complicated twists and turns of Formula One tracks that put up to 5 or 6 g of stress on the driver's body. NASCAR is not the only racing league to run a large number of races on oval tracks; the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series also runs many oval track races, although IndyCars usually average over 30-40 miles an hour faster than Sprint Cup cars due to lighter cars, high-downforce designs, and wider tires.
Sprint Cup events start with 43 cars having qualified to race, compared to 22 for Formula One and 18-20 for the IndyCar Series. NASCAR teams must endure a 36-race schedule over 41 weeks. Teams usually only have about five days to prepare before arriving at any given track.
The end of 2006 saw a major migration of drivers from other series into NASCAR. Montoya initially surprised the auto racing community by leaving F1, but he was quickly followed by other drivers. Open wheel stars like Sam Hornish Jr., Patrick Carpentier, Dario Franchitti, Jacques Villenueve and A.J. Allmendinger all made the move to the Sprint Cup series, with varying degrees of success. Two-time Australian V8 Supercar Champion Marcos Ambrose has competed in Truck and Nationwide Series events since 2007.
Other drivers compete often in NASCAR but are well known for their success elsewhere. Ron Fellows and Boris Said are champion road racers and are often brought in by teams solely to compete in NASCAR's road course events. Robby Gordon is one of NASCAR's few remaining owner-drivers, but he is most famous for his numerous off-road championships and his 3 Baja 1000 wins.
Although NASCAR frequently publicizes the safety measures it mandates for drivers, these features are often only adopted long after they were initially developed. The impact-absorbing "SAFER Barrier" that is now in use had been proposed by legendary mechanic Smokey Yunick during the 1970s, but his idea had been dismissed as too expensive and unnecessary. Only after the deaths of Kenny Irwin, Tony Roper, Adam Petty, and Dale Earnhardt in 2000 and 2001 did NASCAR revisit the idea of decreasing the G-forces a driver sustained during a crash. Other examples of slow reactions include the mandating of a throttle "kill switch" (mandated after the death of Adam Petty) and requiring anti-spill bladders in fuel cells and improved fire-retardant driver suits following the death of Glen "Fireball" Roberts. Dale Earnhardt was killed after he received massive head and neck trauma from a hard crash in the 2001 Daytona 500. Earnhardt's death prompted NASCAR to require all drivers to use the "HANS Device" (Head And Neck Restraint System), a device that keeps the driver's neck from going forward in a wreck. Also with the introduction of the COT(Car of Tomorrow), safety features of the car itself has been greatly improved. Foam is inserted between the sheetmetal and the driver`s cage to help absorb some of the shock during a collision. The driver`s seat has also been moved closer to the center of the car to help minimize injuries resulting from side collisions.
Similar to other professional leagues and sanctioning bodies, NASCAR has been the target of criticism on various topics from various sources. Some critics note the significant differences between today's NASCAR vehicles and true "stock" cars. Others frequently cite the dominance of the France family in NASCAR's business structure, policies, and decision making. Recently, the increased number of Cup drivers competing consistently in the Nationwide Series races has been hotly debated. Another general area of criticism, not only of NASCAR but other motorsports as well, includes questions about fuel consumption, emissions and pollution, and the use of lead additives in the gasoline. As NASCAR has made moves to improve its national appeal, it has begun racing at new tracks, and ceased racing at some traditional ones — a sore spot for the traditional fan base. Most recently, NASCAR has been challenged on the types and frequency of caution flags, with some critics suggesting the outcome of races is being manipulated, and that the intention is not safety, as NASCAR claims, but closer racing.
There have been numerous NASCAR accidents during races and even some off the tracks. Several spectators have received fatal injuries. The NASCAR PR machine moves swiftly and few ever reach the public light. Settlements offered unavoidably include confidentiality clauses as a condition. A Wrongful Death Lawsuit against NASCAR settled for $2.4 Million was revealed in 2008 .