Stock Car Racing- "Made In America"
An ear-piercing, speed-thrilling, stock car pursuit is the most lucrative spectator sport in America, taking in $3 Billion a year in corporate sponsorships, more than double that of the NFL.
The sport's premier governing body, National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), screams and screeches a “Made in America” label. From motor oil to cooking oil, the list of sponsors that plaster their logos on race cars and drivers' suits is akin to nothing less than a who’s who in American consumer products, .
Unlike the international jet set prestige associated with IndyCar and Formula 1, NASCAR has remained fundamentally red, white and blue.
In an annual Cup schedule that hosts 36 races, only six individual pursuits were ever won by foreign born drivers, the first in 1967 by Mario Andretti (Italy) and the last in 2012 by Marcos Ambrose (Australia).
Toyota is also the only non-domestic car to ever celebrate a series victory, in 2015 with Kyle Busch behind the wheel.
Its origins rooted in the southeast and on the other side of the law, stock car racing echoes an American spirit that embodies freedom, ingenuity and competition.
During prohibition in the 1920’s, moonshine runners modified their car engines to outrun the police on rural roads but maintained the vehicles’ outer appearance to avoid attention. Hooch drivers later teamed up and took their skills on dirt racetracks.
Auto mechanic and racer Bill France Sr. founded NASCAR in 1948 to standardize rules among the different racetracks. The following year, the group sanctioned its first “Strictly Stock” series.
Red Byron won the inaugural eight race season driving his #22 Oldsmobile Rocket 88, regarded by some as the first muscle car. 1950 saw the first asphalt superspeedway in Darlington, SC. Daytona followed nine years later with the 500 opener.
After initial success, NASCAR rebranded the series the “Grand National” and beginning 1971 it kicked off a modern era by leasing its name to a succession of sponsors: Winston Cup, Nextel Cup, Sprint Cup and rolling off in 2017, the Monster Energy Cup.
Over the decades, records were broken and legends were made. Former whiskey runner Junior Johnson won 50 races in the 1950’s-60’s and is credited as the first driver to use “drafting” in the stock car chase.
Johnson's imprisonment for owning an illegal still only added to his lore. Author Tom Wolfe featured his story in a 1965 Esquire article that was later made into a film, “The Last American Hero”.
In the 1980's, President Ronald Reagan pardoned the North Carolina native for his conviction. It's all "Made in America" !
AUTO RACING May 24, 2009 Brazil’s Helio Castroneves wins the 93rd edition of the Indianapolis 500, becoming the first foreign-born driver to claim the famed chase three times (2001, 2002). Starting out from pole position in car #3, Castroneves clocked the 200-lap race in 3:19:35. Placing 2nd at the 500 in 2003, 2014 and 2017, Castrovenes is regarded as the best driver who never won an IndyCar Series championship.
RUNNING May 18, 1999 American running champion Betty Robinson dies at the age of 87. The Riverdale, Illinois native was the first female to win gold at the 100m sprint when the race was introduced to women at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. She went on to claim gold again in the 4 x 100m relay at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin after the heavily favored Germans, who were leading, dropped the baton.
HORSE RACING May 20, 1989 Pat Valenzuela wins the Preakness Stakes aboard Sunday Silence, crossing the finish line in a time of 1:538 and edging out rival Easy Goer by just a nose. Both jockey and horse had won the Kentucky Derby earlier, but would miss out on a Triple Crown three weeks later at the Belmont Stakes after trailing Easy Goer by eight lengths.
BASEBALL May 16, 1979 The NL approves the sale of the Houston Astros by the Ford Motor Company (Credit) to John McMullen. The team would sign up pitcher Nolan Ryan, baseball’s first $1 million contract, and go on to reach the playoffs the following year for the first time in franchise history. Founded as the Houston Colt .45’s, the Astros were renamed in 1965 as a reference to the nation’s space center.