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NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing)

NASCAR is an American tradition

During the post-World War II years the American economy hit a boom time and more people spent money on entertainment. Dirt track racing was already popular in the South where large tracts of land and inexpensive gasoline fueled the sport. In 1948 Bill France organized racing into an entity that expanded during the next fifty years. The first official NASCAR race was held February 15th 1948 in Daytona. That year 52 races made up the NASCAR season. The original stock cars were the same sort of automobiles that traveled America's highways.

NASCAR is rooted in the dirt roads and mountain passes of the American south. Until the 1980s, the South was a string of rural communities with lots of wide open space. A large part of the south is farmland. With limited public transportation, the automobile is a necessity. The earliest stockcar drivers copied the driving style of moonshiners, those who make alcohol illegally to avoid the paying taxes on it, frequently driving through the backcountry to deliver their product. In the USA, making and selling alcohol without paying taxes on it is an illegal activity.

NASCAR racing quickly spread across the USA

From its 1948 beginnings in Daytona, NASCAR, by 1951, had crossed the country. The first West Coast race was held in Gardena, California. Detroit hosted a Grand National series race in honor of the 250th anniversary of the city. And also in 1951, NASCAR added to the competition schedule the "Sportsman Series," races that were originally for amateur, weekend racers.
Mike and NASCAR racecar© USATourist.com
Mike posing with a NASCAR race car during his trip to Finish Line Racing Adventures.

By 1954, NASCAR began receiving television coverage, when a half-hour show celebrating speed week in Daytona, "Wire Wheels," was aired in New York. Other television shows followed. 1954 was also the first year a driver used a two-way radio to communicate with his crew during a race. Lee Petty, father of NASCAR legend Richard Petty, won the Grand National championship in 1954.

In 1958, Richard Petty began his NASCAR career. That same year Fireball Roberts was the first NASCAR driver to be voted "Professional Athlete of the Year" by the Florida Sportswriters' Association.

By the 1950s and 60's, stars such as Fireball Roberts and Junior Johnson emerged from the pack of speeding stock cars. The racetrack in Darlington opened in 1950 and began the era of super speedway racing. In the 1960s, the racetrack in Charlotte, North Carolina, still known as the "Mecca of motor sports" opened.

Richard Petty dominated the sport in the early 60's. He's still called the "King of NASCAR." Like many other racers, Petty is following a family tradition. He's the son, father, and grandfather of racers.

From the South to the rest of the States

NASCAR was a regional sport; it is now a national phenomenon. The FOX television network's coverage of NASCAR attracts huge audiences. Former racer Darrell Waltrip mans the mike while his younger brother, Mike, is a competitor in the races.

Tracks across the country from New England to California host NASCAR events. Even glitzy Las Vegas has opened her doors to this down-home sport. You can keep up with the fast cars and racing news daily throughout the season from its beginning in February through its end in November.

NASCAR today consists of three primary "big events." The premier NASCAR series is the Winston series whose cars have 750 horsepower engines and reach speeds of 200 miles per hour on some tracks. The 2001 Winston Cup schedule lists 36 events at 23 tracks. Busch series cars pack 550 horsepower and attain less speed. Many drivers compete in both series. Some drivers use Busch series racing to move up to Winston Cup racing. NASCAR also runs the Craftsman Truck series where pickup trucks that hit speeds of around 150 miles per hour take to the track.
Anny and NASCAR racecar© USATourist.com
Anny gets ready to rip around the track in a NASCAR race car at Finish Line Racing Adventures.

A race weekend is a several day event

Before the main event racers compete for starting positions in the race. In addition to the driver, a NASCAR team is composed of a pit crew and crew chief. Many races have been won or lost by the skill of these men who can change four tires, refuel cars, and make minor adjustments in under 15 seconds. The team also has skilled spotters who communicate with the driver throughout the race, telling him where other drivers are on the track. At many raceways, you can rent radios that will allow you to eavesdrop on these conversations.

Currently events are held at tracks all across the United States. Winston Cup events are scheduled in Atlanta, Georgia; Bristol, Tennessee; Fontana, California; Chicago, Illinois; Darlington, South Carolina; Daytona, Homestead-Miami and Talladega, Florida; Dover, Delaware; Charlotte, North Carolina; Indianapolis, Indiana; Phoenix, Arizona; Watkins Glenn, New York; Las Vegas, Nevada, and other venues. For a complete listing of Winston Cup or Busch Series races check at www.nascar.com.

You can buy race tickets on-line

For on-line tickets check the NASCAR site under the track of your choice for a link to that track's web page. All tracks have toll- free numbers you can access at the NASCAR site so that you can easily book tickets over the phone. It is usually possible to buy tickets on race day except for the Southern 500 in Darlington, the Daytona 500 in Daytona, or the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte.

If you can't get to the racetrack and want to watch with other fans - or just enjoy it so much you can't get enough - have a meal in a NASCAR Café. These stock car-themed restaurants sell racing souvenirs and show the races on wide screen televisions. Often a NASCAR Café will sponsor driver appearances and autograph sessions. You'll find them in Orlando, Florida; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee; Las Vegas, Nevada, and Sevierville, Tennessee (in the Great Smoky Mountains). The menu at NASCAR Cafes is pure American: enormous burgers, barbecued ribs, and BIG portions of other favorites. It's a racing experience from the moment you hit the door. The staff assigns you a "starting position" and the entire operation is run like a pit crew.

If you want an authentic racing experience, you can actually take short courses that will put you behind the wheel of a racecar and on the track. Throughout the USA, most tracks offer some form of driving course.

Buck Baker Driving Schools offers an interesting option. For only fifty dollars, you can take a ride around a track with a professional driver behind the wheel. This "Hot Laps" experience is available at Atlanta, Bristol, Darlington, and Rockingham. The school also offers half-day to multiple-day driving courses at all skill levels. You can call 1-800-529-BUCK or visit their website at www.buddybaker.com/race.html.

In 1975 a momentous event occurred in NASCAR

The son of Ralph Earnhardt, a dirt track racer from Kannapolis, North Carolina, ran his first NASCAR race at Charlotte. Over the next quarter century, Dale Earnhardt and his black #3 would capture the imagination of fans and help bring NASCAR closer to the mainstream.

Dale's driving style was unique. He'd come through track traffic "trading paint" with other drivers and fought for victory with a fierce competitive spirit. Throughout his career countless drivers commented that what they feared most was "seeing #3 in the rear view mirror." NASCAR fans were passionate about Earnhardt. They either loved him or hated him. When he entered the track, he received more cheers, and more boos, than any other driver.

NASCAR lost a hero

His personality made him an American icon. He drove hard and fast, spinning out his competitors. He crawled out of infield ambulances, climbed into wrecked cars and finished races. He embodied qualities that we like to think of as part of our national character. He was born into a poor family in a mill town. Hard work and persistence made him a millionaire. Yet, he was a dedicated family man, who in his last interview said he feared nothing on a racetrack but the thought of his wife or kids being unhappy frightened him.

The legendary Earnhardt lost his life on the final turn of the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. His son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., came in second in that race, driving the #8 car. The #8 that was also his Grandpa Ralph's number. His death affected many Americans who poured into local racetracks for memorial services.
Written by: Diane Goldberg
Top Photo Credit: © USATourist.com
Photo Description: NASCAR race cars line-up at the Finish Line Racing Adventures.