“They’d tell me it was illegal, I’d plead guilty, and they’d carry it away thinking they caught me. But they didn’t check some other things that I thought were even more special.”—Junior Johnson, on cheating.
Anyone who thinks that NASCAR is merely drivers making left turns around a circle needs to dig a bit deeper and realize that there’s a lot more that goes into the sport—yes, sport! Sure, left turns are a major part of a race, but these athletes have to factor in and deal with much more, like making split-second decisions at top speeds that could result in a serious injury, or even death. NASCAR has continued to evolve over the years by keeping up with the times and updating their season to try and make it comparable to the other major sports leagues. Because of this, NASCAR remains one of the more popular sports in America, drawing in massive crowds for each and every race. Plus, at the end of the day, everyone likes to watch cars go really, really fast! So, for fans of the product, or people who want to learn more, pull over to pit road and check out these fast facts about the history NASCAR.
43. Time for a Change
NASCAR was a concept put together by Bill France Sr., a stock car driver who, back in 1947, saw a flaw in the way stock car races were put together. Every race was run by a different, shady promoter and they all had different rules, so France Sr. decided to put together a governing body for stock car racing in the US. This became known as the National Association for Stock Car Racing, or NASCAR for short.
42. Making History
In 1963, Wendell Scott became the first African-American NASCAR driver to win a premier division race, with his victory coming at the Jacksonville Speedway. It would take until 2018 before another African-American driver, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., would become a full-time NASCAR driver. This is also the same year that Brehanna Daniels became the first African-American tire changer in NASCAR history.
41. That’s Not a Racecar, This Is a Racecar!
When NASCAR first started, the vehicles that racers drove were far from the highly modified ones seen today. Instead, they were just common vehicles you’d see driving on the street, like Fords, Lincolns, Buicks, and Cadillacs… with a few modifications, of course.
40. You’ll See Results in 2-3 Business Days
The Daytona 500 has been the opening race for every NASCAR season, ever since its debut back in 1959. That first race was attended by more than 41,000 fans, who witnessed Lee Petty get the victory. However, it took 61 hours to officially call him the winner, as it was a photo finish that had to be reviewed. Since it was 1959, they didn’t have the technology we have today and instead had to look at a newsreel of the race to determine the winner.
39. The Big Three
Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson are three of the most dominant NASCAR drivers in the history of the sport, as they all share the record for the most NASCAR premier titles at seven. They also each have individual records that may never be matched or broken.
38. Record Book
When it comes to records, Petty, Earnhardt, and Johnson own a few significant ones. Earnhardt has the most wins at the Daytona International Speedway with 34 and Johnson is the first driver ever to win five consecutive NASCAR premier titles. Petty has the record for the most NASCAR Cup Series wins at 200, the most wins in a season with 27, and the most consecutive wins with 10.
37. Never Been Done Before
In 2018, NASCAR will unveil its first ever “roval” track, which is a hybrid of an oval track and a road course. It will be used for a playoff race that will take place at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and consists of 13 turns on the 2.4 mile road track, as well as the entire 1.5 mile oval track for a combined 310 miles and over 130 laps.
36. All in the Family
NASCAR has managed to stay in the family for three decades, as Bill France Sr. handed over ownership to his son, Bill France Jr., in 1972, who subsequently made his son, Brian France, Chairman of the Board and CEO in 2003, a position he still holds today.
35. Track Selection
Since the beginning of NASCAR Cup Series sanctioned events, there have been 156 tracks used. For the 2018 season, 23 tracks will be used for the 36 races.
34. Math Lesson
Have you ever wondered what the number at the end of a NASCAR event name means? It signifies the distance of the race in miles, so, for example, the Daytona 500 is a 500-mile race.
33. That’s a Lot of Left Turns
The number of laps per race depends on the size of the track, with smaller tracks having more laps than bigger tracks because there’s less distance to cover. So, for the 2018 season, the fewest number of laps for a race is 90 on the Watkins Glen International, a road track, and the largest is 500, which multiple short track races have.
32. Controversy Out of the Gate
NASCAR became incorporated on February 21, 1948, and held its first race in the Strictly Stock Series on June 19, 1949, at the Charlotte Speedway in North Carolina in front of 13,000 spectators. The race consisted of 33 drivers and was initially won by Glenn Dunaway, but he ended up getting disqualified for having an illegal modification to his car and Jim Roper was named the winner.
31. Track List
There are four different types of NASCAR track—Short, Intermediate, Superspeedway, and Road. Short tracks are less than one mile in length, Intermediate tracks are greater than one mile but less than two miles, Superspeedway tracks are greater than two miles and Road tracks are most known for having both left and right turns.
30. Pick a Name Already
Throughout the years since its inception in 1949, the NASCAR Premier Series has changed names many times. The inaugural season went by the Strictly Stock Series before changing to the Grand National Series from 1950-1971. The Winston Cup Series came next and lasted from 1971-2003 when it was changed to the Nextel Cup Series for four years. Next up was the Sprint Cup Series from 2008-2016, before landing on its current name, The Monster Energy Series.
29. Getting Slow With Age
In 2018, at 90 years old, Herschel McGriff became the oldest driver to compete in a NASCAR-sanctioned race. He ended up finishing in last, but I don’t think anyone thought of him as a loser that day.
28. As Big As Some Cities
With a seating capacity of more than 250,000 and infield seating that raises the number to 400,000, Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the largest NASCAR track and highest-capacity sports facility in the world. It was also the first track to be called a Superspeedway. The longest track goes to the Talladega Superspeedway, which is 2.66 miles.
27. The Same but Different
NASCAR cars may appear to have headlights, taillights and front grills, but they’re all actually decals. The reason they’re put on and not left off altogether is to differentiate the cars in the race and help the viewers identify the make and model.
26. Celebrating the Best and the Brightest
In 2009, NASCAR announced it was starting a Hall of Fame and introduced its first ever inductees, France Sr., France Jr., Petty, Earnhardt, and Junior Johnson. The following year, they opened the Hall of Fame building in Uptown Charlotte, North Carolina and then held a ceremony to induct the inaugural class.
25. No More Dirt Roads
On September 4, 1950, NASCAR held its first ever race on asphalt at the Darlington International Speedway, which consisted of 74 participants and was won by Johnny Mantz. Imagine if the races were still on dirt roads today!
24. Superman Levels of Fast
Driver Bill Elliot holds the record for the top speed ever reached in a NASCAR event, when he reached 212 mph on a qualifying lap at Talladega in 1987. It has technically never been officially matched or broken since (more on that later), as NASCAR installed restrictor plates not long after to limit the speed of the cars at Talladega and Daytona.
23. Add an Asterisks Beside It
Depending on how you look at it, Rusty Wallace could be considered the record holder for top speed reached, as he reached 228 mph at Talladega in 2004. However, this was done during a trial run when the restrictor plates were taken off, and not during an official race or event, like Elliot’s record was. You decide who’s the fastest.
22. Stuck Together
There’s a lot that goes into building a NASCAR car, and the process is extremely different than building a regular streetcar. The body alone takes ten days to complete and consists of welding every part together so that it becomes one solid piece. This is why the doors don’t open and the drivers have to go in through the window. This method makes the cars as light and strong as possible.
21. Gear Down, Turbo!
Drivers can go as fast as they want on the track but when they enter the pit road for a pit stop, they have to obey a speed limit. This limit varies from 30 mph to 55 mph depending on the size of the track and the length of the pit road, and they cannot go over the limit by more than five mph or a penalty is enforced.
20. Channel Surfing
NASCAR looks to be on a decline, at least in terms of viewership, as its most popular race, the Daytona 500, had a record low 5.1 rating in 2018, beating the previous record low of 5.6, set in 2014.
19. The Sweet Smell of Burnt Rubber and Global Warming
It’s estimated that one car consumes around 90 to 100 gallons of gas per race, which in a 40-car race would average out to about 3,600 to 4,000 gallons of gas total. That seems like a staggering amount, until you factor in that about 360 million gallons of gas is burned daily in the US—suddenly only 36 races at that amount doesn’t seem so bad.
18. A Tree a Day Keeps the Carbon Emissions Away
Rather than do nothing about it, NASCAR has at least tried to make an effort to offset the carbon emissions caused by their races by partnering with the Arbor Day Foundation to plant more than 400,000 trees near the racetracks.
17. Everyone Serves a Purpose
NASCAR may look like an individual sport, as there is only one driver in the car who races around the track, but the driver actually races for a team which is made up of numerous positions, like an owner, team manager, crew chief, car chief, engine and tire specialist, and pit crew, to name a few. They each contribute to the team in some form, be it by making decisions, providing the money coming up with strategies for the race, or fixing any issues with the car before, during and after the race.
16. A Little Bit of Everything
The first ever fully televised race occurred on February 18, 1979, when CBS broadcast the Daytona 500. The race more than lived up to the hype and saw Richard Petty get the win, but it also provided the viewers with some fireworks to close the show as Cale Yarborough got into a fight with Donnie and Bobby Allison on the infield grass after they got into a collision on the last lap. Now thats good TV!
15. Women’s Revolution
Although Danica Patrick may be the most well known female driver in NASCAR and was the first woman to win a pole position in a NASCAR premier series, she’s not the first woman ever to compete. That honor goes to Janet Guthrie, who competed in the Daytona 500 over 40 years ago, in 1977.
14. That’s a Lot of Driving
There are three different NASCAR National Series every year, which are essentially three different leagues. There are two stock car racing series, the NASCAR Cup—or the Monster Energy Series—and the Xfinity Series, which acts as a sort of minor league to the Monster Series. On top of these two, NASCAR also runs one truck racing series, the Camping World Truck Series.
13. All of the Lights
NASCAR drivers never know exactly how fast they are going during a race because their cars don’t have a speedometer. This wasn’t really an issue until they implemented speed limits on the pit roads. Now, cars have a series of lights that signify if they are over or under the speed limit. Green means under, yellow and orange mean directly on it or just slightly under or over, and red means way over. It’s unclear what a driver uses if they’re colorblind.
12. What’s Your Point?
Throughout a NASCAR Cup season, drivers accumulate points in various ways during every race, which determines their position in the standings. However, the way that points are awarded has changed around 14 times since the very first Cup series in 1949. Points have been awarded based on the purse money of a race, the mileage, the laps, and today, on the driver’s position during and after the race.
11. Stages of Success
For the 2018 season, another way for drivers to earn points is by being in the top ten by the end of a stage in a race. Every race is separated into three stages, with each stage consisting of a certain number of laps. The points are awarded in descending order, with first place getting ten points and tenth place getting one, as well as bonus playoff points awarded to the driver who wins a stage.
10. Racing Season
NASCAR is just like other sports, with a regular season and playoffs. In NASCAR, the whole season consists of 36 races total—26 regular season and 10 playoff. 16 drivers make the playoffs and four are eliminated after every three races until the final four compete in one, winner takes all, championship race. This wasn’t always the case, as the Cup Series format has changed quite a bit throughout the years.
9. Catch up Mode
In 2003, NASCAR implemented a rule that would prevent drivers from passing each other during a caution for safety reasons, but also included a controversial beneficiary rule that is seen as an unfair advantage for the driver who gets it. The rule, also known as the lucky dog rule, allows the first lapped driver to pass other cars during a caution and get the lap back. During the first race it was implemented, Ryan Newman was given it and went on to win the race.
8. Last Flag Flying Part I
There are eight different colored flags that can pop up during a NASCAR race, some more often than others, and each one has a specific purpose. The colors are yellow, green, black, red, white, black with diagonal white stripes, blue with diagonal yellow stripes, and black and white checkers.
7. Last Flag Flying Part II
The yellow flag signifies a caution, a green flag ends the caution and restarts the race, and a red flag stops the race completely. A black flag means a driver committed a fault and needs to go to the pits, and a black flag with diagonal white stripes means the driver took more than five laps to go to the pits and forfeits any points scored. The blue flag with diagonal yellow stripes tells a lapped driver to yield to faster cars. The white flag signals the last lap and the white and black-checkered flag means the end of the race.
6. The Ultimate Drivers Test
NASCAR drivers don’t need a state-issued driver’s license to compete in a race, but they do need a NASCAR driver’s license that they have to be least 18 years old to obtain. Basically, some professional drivers can’t even legally drive to their job as a racecar driver.
5. Size Does Matter
There are minimum weight restrictions that a car has to reach in order to be eligible for a race, but it actually depends on the weight of the driver. For example, if a driver weighs 139 lbs or less, their car has to weigh a minimum of 3,325 lbs, and if they weigh 220 lbs or more, their car has to weigh at least 3,235 lbs. This is done to level the playing field so that a lighter driver doesn’t have the advantage of a lighter car, which means they can go faster. It may sound trivial, but over a 500 mile race the little things can make a difference.
4. Unorthodox Weight Loss
The temperature in a car during a race can reach anywhere from 110 degrees to 170 degrees near the floor, which can result in drivers losing five or even ten pounds in one race. On top of that, if the driver doesn’t replenish the fluids they lost they can see a significant drop in their focus and reflexes, making driving at high speeds a lot more dangerous.
3. When You Gotta Go, You Gotta Go
During a four-hour race, if NASCAR drivers have to go to the bathroom they typically hold it in, or they sweat so much they don’t have to go at all. However, according to some drivers, if they “really” have to go, they just go, right then and there. Now that’s commitment.
2. Better Late Than Never
There have been quite a few NASCAR related deaths since its inception, but one of the most impactful occurred in 2000, after fourth generation driver Adam Petty (son of Kyle Petty, grandson of Richard Petty, great-grandson of Lee Petty) crashed into a wall when the throttle in his car got stuck, killing him instantly. The accident led to numerous safety measures being put into place, such as a kill switch button that completely shuts the car down, improved head and neck restraints, and crash absorbing walls on the tracks.
1. Rough Patch
It took time before all the new safety measures were put into place, and in the subsequent nine months, three more drivers died on the track, with the most notable death being none other than NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt on the final lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001. The shocking death of someone as respected as Earnhardt made the organization make safety one of its largest concerns, and thankfully not a single NASCAR driver has been killed since.