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The Girl's Guide to Nascar
By Liz Allison
CENTER STREETCopyright © 2006 Liz Allison
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Starting Lineup
The popularity and growth of the sport speaks for itself. But make no mistake, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) has carefully charted and directed the course of the enormously successful stock car racing series from the very beginning. The NASCAR you see today seems to be very different from the NASCAR that started over fifty years ago, but it is not as different as one might think. What has remained "on track" through the years are the colorful personalities of the drivers, the fierce competition, and the steadfast fans.
Was there wheeled racing before NASCAR? You betcha ... but not what we know as racing in this day and age. Racing can be traced back as far as the horse-and-buggy days when young men (and women) with a need for speed rumbled across rock-filled dirt roads. Later generations raced cars on back roads and makeshift drag strips before the first racetrack was ever built. The first racetracks were simply dirt, making for great racing and dirt-filled noses and ears. The beauty of the racing of years past was the concept of "from the road to the track." Basically, if you had four wheels, you could race. It was not uncommon to have your dentist and milkman racing each other on Saturday nightat the local racetrack. It would be years before the word "professional" would come before "race car driver." Until then, racing was a fun hobby for thrill seekers; certainly nothing like the big business it is today.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, completed in 1909, was technically the first non-dirt track to be built in the United States, even though it did not run stock cars at first. The track surface was built out of bricks instead of asphalt ... 3.2 million bricks, to be exact, hence the nickname the Brickyard.
Professional auto racing began with a jumbled array of small sanctioning bodies for stock car racing across the Southeast that organized races from the mid-1930s until the late 1940s. There was no governing body or anyone to basically police the events, setting the stage for several different problems for the drivers ... like being paid, for example. Before NASCAR, a race promoter might set up a race, raise the funds for the race purse, sell tickets, bring in the drivers, and then head out of town before the race was over-with the winnings, ticket monies, and all. Many racers were left with nothing but expenses and no paycheck to help pay the bills.
Undoubtedly, NASCAR racing would be in a different place if not for the vision of a banker turned race car driver from Washington, D.C., by the name of Bill France. Seeking his dreams, France had set out on a cross-country trip from Washington to Miami when a little car trouble sidetracked him for a few days in Daytona Beach, Florida. That unplanned stopover changed the course of his life and the course of racing.
France-The Founding Family
NASCAR was founded in Daytona Beach, Florida, on December 14, 1947, by William H. G. France. He stood six and a half feet tall, earning himself the nickname "Big Bill." Many thought his stature illuminated an intimidating nature, but the people who knew him best felt that his toughness was only for show; his soft side was saved for those who were closest to him. Bill's vision far exceeded anything the world of racing had ever known. Being a driver himself, he understood the ins and outs of the sport. He wanted to take it to the big leagues, in hopes of one day making it mainstream. His interest in television and radio coverage was laughed off by many businessmen, who only saw it as a wild dream.
On December 14, 1947, Mr. France called a meeting at the Streamline Hotel in what is now the world center of racing, Daytona Beach. There he convinced business associates and investors to follow his dream. Just a few short months later on February 15, 1948, the France dream became a reality as NASCAR ran its first race on the beach at Daytona. The first-ever NASCAR event was won by the racing legend Red Byron. Only six days later NASCAR was incorporated. The world of racing would never be the same.
The first Strictly Stock race (what we know today as the Nextel Cup Series) was run at the Charlotte Fairgrounds Speedway in North Carolina on June 19, 1949. Soon afterward, racers started flocking in from around the country, making Charlotte another hub for racing. This remains the case today, as most teams are based out of the Charlotte area. Red Byron was crowned the very first NASCAR champion that October. His six starts and two wins in 1949 afforded him $5,800 in winnings.
Bill Sr. decided to change the name of NASCAR's top series subtitle in 1950 from Strictly Stock to Grand National, and from 1950 to 1959 NASCAR continued its growth in popularity, finally catching the attention of executives at CBS Sports. January 31, 1960 marked the first live televised race coverage on any network, as the CBS Sports Spectacular broadcast a two-hour program devoted to the Daytona pole-qualifying events. ABC Sports followed the lead of CBS by including the July 16, 1960, Firecracker 250 in their Wide World of Sports programming.
History was made in 1971 when the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, the parent company of Winston cigarettes, announced its plans to become the first title sponsor of the growing Grand National Division of NASCAR racing. Cigarette advertising was undergoing major changes, as the marketing of tobacco products was banned from television, leaving an insane amount of unused advertising dollars lying on the table. The RJR Company initially went to legendary racer and car owner Junior Johnson to sponsor his race team. Junior, realizing very quickly that RJR's financial support far exceeded anything he could use, steered the powerhouse tobacco company to NASCAR, whose elite series was renamed the Winston Cup Grand National Division. This would forge one of the longest-standing relationships in the history of the sport.
Fast Fact What we now know as the Nextel Cup Series has had many names over the years. Even though the name of the series has changed, NASCAR has always been the sanctioning body.
1949-1950 Strictly Stock 1950-1971 Grand National 1971-1986 Winston Cup Grand National Division 1986-2003 Winston Cup Series 2004-present Nextel Cup Series Nextel and Sprint merged in 2005, which could result in a name change in the foreseeable future.
In 1972, at the age of sixty-three, Bill Sr. passed the torch to his son William C. France, more commonly known as Bill Jr. Bill Sr. had been molding his son for several years, waiting for the day he felt Bill Jr. was ready to take NASCAR into the next generation. Bill Jr. became the second president of NASCAR. By this time, NASCAR racing was making its way all over the southeastern states, from South Carolina to Virginia and just about every state in between, and Bill Jr. felt it necessary to trim the Winston Cup Grand National Division schedule from forty-eight to thirty-one races. His plan was to focus more attention on the growth of fewer tracks, and to put some distance between the tracks. This was the birth of the modern era of NASCAR.
The Fight As the laps were winding down in the 1979 Daytona 500, tempers were flaring up. On the last lap of the race Donnie Allison was leading, with Cale Yarborough on his back bumper. Cale dove down to make a pass while Donnie was attempting to hold him off, and as the two fought over Daytona real estate, they got together and wrecked in Turn 3. The King, Richard Petty, went on to capture one of his seven Daytona 500 titles. After the checkered flag waved, as Petty made his way to Victory Lane, Donnie Allison and Yarborough argued on the grass in Turn 3. Donnie's brother, Bobby, also a 500 competitor, stopped his car and joined in what has become one of the most talked-about moments in NASCAR history ... known simply as The Fight.
CBS Sports made history on February 18, 1979, as the network gave flag-to-flag live coverage of the Daytona 500. The King-Richard Petty-won the coveted trophy after an infamous wreck between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison. This wild finish produced one of the most replayed events in the history of the sport.
The growth of the sport and its popularity kept the attention of the networks, who chose sporadic events to cover throughout the course of each race season. In 1989, NASCAR had earned enough credibility and respect that the networks granted coverage to every NASCAR Winston Cup event, broadcasting them on national or cable TV.
Bill France Sr. passed away in 1992, leaving the creation and growth of NASCAR as his legacy. By the time NASCAR's fiftieth anniversary arrived in 1998, Bill France Jr. was ready to hand over day-to-day duties to Mike Helton, who was at that time the senior vice president and chief operating officer. History was made on November 28, 2000, when Bill Jr. officially named Helton the third president of NASCAR, making him the first (and only) person outside of the France family to lead the way.
As Helton had been groomed for many years to take the lead of NASCAR, so had Bill Jr.'s son, Brian Z. France. In October 2003, Brian became the chairman of the board and CEO of NASCAR, replacing his father.
Meanwhile, the more than thirty-year relationship between Winston and NASCAR came to an end, and it was announced on June 19, 2003, that Nextel would take the title sponsor lead. The Nextel Cup Series kicked off its first event in February 2004.
The Men and Women Behind NASCAR Chairman of the board and chief executive officer-Brian Z. France Vice chairman-Bill France Jr. Vice chairman/ executive vice president-James C. France (brother of Bill Jr.)Member, NASCAR board of directors-Lesa France Kennedy President-Mike Helton Chief operating officer-George Pyne Chief financial officer-Todd Wilson Assistant secretary-Betty Jane France (wife of Bill Jr.) Senior vice president-Paul Brooks Vice president, corporate administration-Ed Bennett Vice president, corporate communications-Jim Hunter Vice president, licensing consumer products-Mark Dyer Vice president, broadcasting and news media-Richard Glover Vice president, competition-Robin Pemberton Vice president, research and development-Gary Nelson Director of diversity and special projects-Tish Sheets NASCAR Nextel Cup Series director-John Darby NASCAR Busch Series director-Joe Balash NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series director-Wayne Auton Board of Directors Brian France-chairman Bill France Jr.-vice chairman Jim France-vice chairman Mike Helton George Pyne Lesa France Kennedy
Brian France made waves early in 2004 when he introduced a change in the way the sport's top series would run its competitive schedule. Beginning at Daytona in February 2004, only the top ten drivers, or those drivers within 400 points of the points leader, would compete in the final ten races leading to the Cup, which ultimately produced one of the most exciting championship battles in the history of the sport. Leading into the final event of the 2004 season, five drivers positioned themselves to have a shot at being the NASCAR Nextel Cup champion. Many believed that the championship battle had become boring and stagnant in years past, but that notion was put to rest as the final laps wound down in the final race of 2004. Kurt Busch won his first title by a mere twelve inches.
You might be a female NASCAR fan if ... You get a special "Jeff Gordon" paint scheme on your toenails.
The NASCAR that was formed more than fifty years ago by Brian's grandfather Bill Sr. is gone but not forgotten. The idea is the same, the competition factor is the same, but the approach is big mainstream business. The sport has been given a new face, and this generation has become known as the "new" NASCAR.
The Popularity and Growth of the Sport
For many, the thrill of racing has always been an enticing phenomenon. It is hard not to get excited by the highly competitive races NASCAR hosts in this day and age. NASCAR has the extensive TV and radio coverage to thank for the ever-growing number of race fans. But what made the sport so contagious years before the media coverage? The silent bug ... the need for speed.
Girlfriend to Girlfriend Let's face it, ladies, NASCAR drivers are pretty darn cute. There is just something about a guy in uniform that makes you want to take him home to Momma.
That "need for speed" seems to live dormant in many of us until someone or something brings it to the surface. Do you remember the first time you came off your couch yelling for your favorite driver to win or the time you could have punched the lights out of another driver for taking your driver out of the race?
Now you've got it.
Some 75 million fans around the country have decided the "need for speed" is what plants them in front of a TV every weekend to watch the best racing there is. NASCAR racing is contagious; once you get "bit by the bug," you are history! This virus is making NASCAR the fastest-growing sport in the country.
International Speedway Corporation The International Speedway Corporation (ISC), a publicly owned company based out of Daytona Beach, Florida, is a France family company that promotes motorsports activities in the United States. Lesa France Kennedy, the daughter of Bill France Jr., is the president of ISC, while Bill Jr. serves as chairman and his brother Jim serves as chief executive officer. ISC currently owns and operates eleven motorsports facilities (including Daytona International Speedway) and the Motor Racing Network, which carries live flag-to-flag radio coverage of many of the Nextel Cup events.
Who Are the Fans, Anyway?
NASCAR fans are people just like you and me who love the sport of stock car racing. There are an estimated 75 million race fans from every walk of life, and more than 250 million people view NASCAR events each year. Amazingly, 40 percent of those fans are women. The younger-generation drivers and the so-called hotties of NASCAR have made the sport more attractive to the younger fan as well as the female fan, and female and child-age fans make up its fastest-growing demographics. It is not uncommon to have every family member pull for a different driver, and the brand loyalty of NASCAR fans is second to none. It is estimated that an astounding 72 percent of NASCAR fans consciously select the products of NASCAR sponsors.
Girlfriend to Girlfriend Contrary to the opinions of many, NASCAR fans are not toothless rednecks who can't read or write. Female NASCAR fans are educated women who simply love the competition NASCAR displays, as well as the many personalities of the drivers who compete in the Cup Series. Some even wear Lilly Pulitzer and pearls!
Excerpted from The Girl's Guide to Nascar by Liz Allison Copyright © 2006 by Liz Allison. Excerpted by permission.
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