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Drivers practice for the 2004 Daytona 500
Drivers practice for the 2004 Daytona 500

The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) was cofounded by William France Sr. and Ed Otto in 1948 in the USA. Officially incorporated on February 21, its purpose was to organize and promote the sport of stock car racing.


Early history

Many early racing drivers were involved in bootlegging, the illegal transportation of alcohol. The drivers would modify their cars in order to create a faster and more maneuverable car. It was a logical step for the owners of these cars to race them. These races were popular entertainment in the rural south, 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 which may have been lightened or reinforced. Bill France had the notion that people would enjoy watching unmodified, "stock" cars racing and promoted a few races before WW II. In 1947, he decided that this racing would not grow without a formal sanctioning organization, standardized rules, a regular schedule, and an organized championship. This led to the formation of NASCAR in 1948. The first NASCAR race ever was held at the old Charlotte Speedway in North Carolina on June 19, 1949 (This is not the same speedway as the Lowe's Motor Speedway that is near Charlotte, NC).

Initially the cars were known as the "Strictly Stock" Division and raced with virtually no modifications from the factory models. This division was renamed "Grand National" in 1950. However, over a period of about a dozen years, modifications for both safety and performance were allowed, and by the mid-1960s the vehicles were purpose built racecars with a stock-appearing body.

Most races were on half-mile to one mile oval tracks. However, the first "superspeedway" was built in Darlington, South Carolina in 1950. This track at 1.38 miles was wider, faster, and higher banked than racers had seen. The famous Daytona, Florida race used the beach as one straightaway and the beachfront highway as the other, prior to the construction in 1959 of the Daytona International Speedway, a 2.5 mile high banked track that became the icon of the sport.

Growth of the sport

The sport began to attract more attention through the 1950s as manufacturers realized the opportunity to promote sales through racing. At various times Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and Chrysler all supported factory teams, openly and sometimes covertly when they pretended "not to be involved in racing". The teams became full-time jobs for the top drivers and owners. Although stock racing did not have much following outside the southeast, people like Lee Petty, Curtis Turner , Fireball Roberts, Smokey Yunick and Junior Johnson became well known within the racing world.

Almost all the races were held in southeastern U.S., because the economics of traveling with racecars, parts and mechanics demanded it. Many of the venues were county fairgrounds or local tracks that hosted local racing on Saturday night when the touring stars were not in town. An exception was Riverside Raceway, in Riverside, California; because of the travel distances involved, it traditionally either started the Grand National season, or ended it.

Beginning of the modern era

NASCAR made major changes in its structure in the early 1970s. The top series found sponsorship from R.J. Reynolds tobacco (tobacco companies had been banned from television advertising and were looking for a promotional outlet). The "Winston Cup" became the top competitive series, with a new points system and some significant cash benefits to competing for championship points. The next division down, called Late Model Sportsman, gained the "Grand National" title passed down from the top division and soon found a sponsor in Busch Beer. In the mid-1970s some races began to get partial television coverage, frequently 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. The leaders going into the last lap, Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison , wrecked on the backstretch while dicing for the lead, and Richard Petty passed to win. 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.

The beginning of the modern era, which NASCAR defines as 1972, 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.

Races and racetracks

Contrary to common belief, NASCAR races are not all conducted on identical oval tracks. Tracks vary in length from 0.526 (Martinsville Speedway) to 2.66 miles (Talladega Superspeedway) (0.847 to 4.281 km). While some tracks are ovals, many are tri-ovals. Other configurations are quad-oval, oval with unequal ends (Darlington), and triangular (Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania). Courses also differ in degree of banking on the curves, with differences in degree of banking and course length contributing to different top speeds on various courses. Two courses are complex shaped road courses. Nevertheless, fans of other series such as Formula One ridicule NASCAR races as "taxis turning left."

Race speeds vary widely based on the track. The fastest track is Talladega Superspeedway where the record race speed is 188 mph (303 km/h) with the record qualifying lap of 212.809 mph (342.483 km/h) set by Bill Elliott. The slowest tracks are Infineon Raceway, a road course, with a record race speed of only 81 mph (130 km/h) and qualifying lap of 99 mph (159 km/h); and Martinsville Speedway, a very short, nearly flat oval, with a record race speed of 82 mph (132 km/h) and a qualifying lap of only 97 mph (156 km/h).

Generally, tracks with a length of less than one mile are referred to as "short tracks". Initially tracks of over one mile were referred to as "superspeedways", but many NASCAR venues now are 1.5 miles or 2 miles in length.

As a safety measure to reduce speeds at the two fastest tracks (Daytona International Speedway and Talladega), a restrictor plate must be placed between the carburetor and intake manifold to restrict air and fuel flow and, therefore, power. Today, the highest speeds in NASCAR are found at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which is the fastest track where restrictor plates are not mandated. Unrestricted, NASCAR cars run at over 750 horsepower (560 kW).

The closest European equivalent is touring car racing, although the European circuits are on road courses. In The first NASCAR competition held outside of the United States was in Canada, where on July 1, 1952 , Buddy Shuman won a 200-lap race on a half-mile dirt track in Stamford Park, ON, near Niagra Falls. On July 18, 1958 , Richard Petty made his premiership debut in a race at Toronto at the Canadian National Exhibition Grounds. He completed 55 laps before crashing, while father Lee won the 100-lap feature.

In 1996, NASCAR went to Japan for Suzuka NASCAR Thunder 100 at Suzuka Circuitland in Suzuka City on November 24, 1996. This exhibition race was won by Rusty Wallace. In 2005, the first ever NASCAR points-paying race outside of the United States was held for the minor league NASCAR Busch Series at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez racetrack in Mexico City. The winner of this twisty road course event was Martin Truex Jr.

Present racecars

While the manufacturers and models of automobiles for Nextel Cup racing are named for production cars (Dodge Charger, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, and Ford Taurus, with the Fusion replacing the Taurus for 2006), the similarities between Nextel Cup cars and actual production cars are limited to some shaping of the nose and grill areas.

The cars are high-powered, low-tech hot rods with a roll cage chassis and thin sheet metal covering, and are powered by carbureted engines with 4 speed manual transmissions. The engines are limited to 355 cubic inches (5.8 L), with cast iron blocks, one camshaft and a pushrod valvetrain. However, significant engine development has allowed these engines to reach exceedingly high levels of power with essentially 1950s technology.

The automobiles' suspension, brakes, and aerodynamics components are also selected to tailor the cars to different racetracks. The adjustment of front and rear aerodynamice downforce, spring rates, rear track bar geometry, and brake proportioning are critical to the cornering characteristics of the cars. A car that is difficult to turn into a corner is said to be "tight", while one that has a tendency to slide the rear end out is said to be "loose". These characteristics are also affected by tire stagger (tires of different circumference at different positions on the car, the right rear being largest to help effect left turns) and tire pressure (softer being "grippier").

Historic moments

NASCAR racing has its share of great finishes. The closest finish in NASCAR history was at Darlington Raceway between Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch on March 16, 2003. Craven came in ahead by .002 seconds after the drivers raced the last stretch with their cars touching each other. See the picture here.

Broadcast coverage

In the United States, television broadcast rights are split between FOX/FX and NBC/TNT, with FOX/FX airing the first half of the season and NBC/TNT airing the second half. The networks alternate coverage of the first and most famous race of the season, the Daytona 500, with Fox getting the odd years and NBC the even ones. The current television contract was signed for six years and is valued at $2.4 billion [1].

Audio coverage of all Nextel Cup, Busch Series and the Craftsman Truck Series races is available in the United States on both satellite radio and AM broadcast radio. XM Radio currently holds the exclusive satellite radio broadcast rights for all NASCAR coverage through the end of the 2006 season. On February 23 2005, NASCAR awarded the satellite radio contract to XM Radio's primary competitor Sirius Satellite Radio for exclusive satellite radio rights to the 2007 through 2011 racing seasons in exchange for US$107 million [2]. MRN Radio , a subsidiary of NASCAR, holds the AM broadcast radio rights. A list of MRN Radio broadcast affiliates in the U.S. can be found here:[3]. Performance Racing Network airs ten Cup races, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's network carries the Brickyard 400. MRN Radio broadcasts are also available (for a fee) via the web at [4].

In the United Kingdom, television coverage is available on NASN (North American Sports Network), a subscription channel on satellite.

Related racing series

In addition to the Nextel Cup, NASCAR operates several other racing circuits.

Many local racetracks across the United States and Canada run under the Dodge Weekly Series banner, where local drivers are compared against each other in a formula where the best local track champion of the nation, as based on a formula, wins the Dodge Weekly Series National Championship.

NASCAR sanctions three regional racing divisions, the Whelen Modified Tour , which races open wheel "modified" cars in Northern and Southern divisions, the AutoZone Elite Division , which races late-model cars which are lighter than Nextel Cup cars, and less powerful cars, split into four divisions, Northwest, Southwest, Southeast, and Midwest, and the Grand National Division, which races in the Busch North and the West Series. Grand National cars are similar to Busch Series cars, although they are less powerful.

In 2003, NASCAR standardised 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 at Irwindale Speedway in California to determine the annual AutoZone Elite and Grand National champions.

NASCAR runs two other national touring series, the Craftsman Truck Series, which races modified pickup trucks, and the minor league Busch Series. Many drivers move up through the series before reaching the Nextel Cup series. In 2002, 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.

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