The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing
is the largest sanctioning body of stock cars in the United States. The three largest racing series sanctioned by NASCAR are the Sprint Cup, the Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series. It also oversees NASCAR Local Racing, the Whelen Modified Tour, and the Whelen All-American Series. NASCAR sanctions over 1,500 races at over 100 tracks in 39 states, Canada, and Mexico. From 1996 to 1998, NASCAR held exhibition races in Japan and an exhibition race in Australia in 1988.
With roots as regional entertainment in the Southeastern U.S., NASCAR has grown to become the second-most popular professional sport in terms of television ratings inside the U.S., ranking behind only the National Football League. Internationally, NASCAR races are broadcast in over 150 countries. It holds 17 of the top 20 attended sporting events in the U.S.,1 and has 75 million fans who purchase over $3 billion in annual licensed product sales. These fans are considered the most brand-loyal in all of sports and as a result, Fortune 500 companies sponsor NASCAR more than any other governing body. In 2007 NASCAR made a profit of just under $3 billion, and was the second richest motorsport (Formula One was first).
NASCAR's headquarters are located in Daytona Beach, Florida, although it also maintains offices in four North Carolina cities: Charlotte, Mooresville, Concord, and Conover. Regional offices are also located in New York City, Los Angeles, Bentonville, and international offices in Mexico City and Toronto. Additionally, owing to its southern roots, all but a handful of NASCAR teams are still based in North Carolina, especially near Charlotte.The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) is the largest sanctioning body of stock cars in the United States. The three largest racing series sanctioned by NASCAR are the Sprint Cup, the Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series. It also oversees NASCAR Local Racing, the Whelen Modified Tour, and the Whelen All-American Series. NASCAR sanctions over 1,500 races at over 100 tracks in 39 states, Canada, and Mexico. From 1996 to 1998, NASCAR held exhibition races in Japan and an exhibition race in Australia in 1988.
Early stock car racing
In the 1920s and 1930s, Daytona Beach became known as the place to set world land speed records, supplanting France and Belgium as the preferred location for land speed records, with 8 consecutive world records set between 1927 and 1935. After a historic race between Ransom Olds and Alexander Winton in 1903, the beach became a mecca for racing enthusiasts and fifteen records were set on what became the Daytona Beach road course between 1905 and 1935. By the time the Bonneville Salt Flats became the premier location for pursuit of land speed records, in 1936, Daytona beach had become synonymous with fast cars. Drivers raced a 1.5 to 2-mile (3.2 km) stretch of beach as one straightaway and beachfront highway A1A as the other.
Stock car racing in the United States has its origins in bootlegging during Prohibition, when drivers ran bootleg whiskey made in Appalachia region of the United States. Bootleggers needed to distribute their illicit products, and they typically used small, fast vehicles to better evade the police. Many of the drivers would modify their cars for speed and handling, as well as increased cargo capacity, and some of them came to love the fast-paced driving down twisty mountain roads. One of the main 'strips' in Knoxville, Tennessee, had its beginning as a mecca for aspiring bootlegging drivers.
The repeal of Prohibition in 1933 dried up some of their business, but by then Southerners had developed a taste for moonshine, and a number of the drivers continued "runnin' shine," this time evading the "revenuers" who were attempting to tax their operations.  The cars continued to improve, and by the late 1940s, races featuring these cars were being run for pride and profit. These races were popular entertainment in the rural Southern United States, 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 were lightened and reinforced.
NASCAR was founded by William France, Sr., on February 21, 1948, with the help of several other drivers of the time. The points system was written on a bar room napkin. The original plans for NASCAR included three distinct divisions: Modified, Roadster, and Strictly Stock. The Modified and Roadster classes were seen as more attractive to fans. It turned out that NASCAR fans wanted nothing to do with the Roadsters, which fans perceived as a Northeast or Midwest series. The Strictly Stock division was put on hold as American automobile manufacturers were unable to produce family sedans quickly enough to keep up with post-World War II demand. The 1948 schedule featured 52 Modified dirt track races. The sanctioning body hosted its first event at Daytona Beach on February 15, 1948. Red Byron beat Marshall Teague in the Modified division race. Byron won the 1948 national championship. Things had changed dramatically by 1949, and the Strictly Stock division was able to debut with a 20-mile (32 km) exhibition in February near Miami.
The first Commissioner of NASCAR was Erwin "Cannonball" Baker. A former stock car, motorcycle, and open-wheel racer who competed in the Indianapolis 500 and set over one hundred land speed records. Cannonball Baker earned most of his fame for his transcontinental speed runs. Baker would prove a car's worth by driving it from New York to Los Angeles. After his death, the famous transcontinental race the 'Cannonball Run' and the film that was inspired by it were both named in his honor. Baker is enshrined in the Automotive Hall of Fame, The Motorcycle Hall of Fame, The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame, and The NASCAR Hall of Fame. This level of honor and success in each diverse racing association earned Baker the title of "King of the Road".
In the early 1950s the United States Navy stationed Bill France, Jr., at the Moffett Federal Airfield in northern California. His father asked him to look up Bob Barkhimer in San Jose, California. Barkhimer was a star of midget car racing from the World War II era, and later ran about 22 different speedways as the head of the California Stock Car Racing Association. Young Bill developed a relationship with Bob Barkhimer and his partner, Margo Burke. He went to events with them, stayed weekends with them and generally became very familiar with racing on the west coast. "Barky," as he was called by his friends, journeyed to Daytona Beach and met with Bill France, Sr. In the spring of 1954, NASCAR became the stock car sanctioning body on the Pacific Coast under Barky.
The first NASCAR "Strictly Stock" race ever was held at Charlotte Speedway (not the Charlotte Motor Speedway) on June 19, 1949 -- a race won by Jim Roper after Glenn Dunnaway was disqualified after the discovery of his altered rear springs. Initially, the cars were known as the "Strictly Stock Division" and raced with virtually no modifications on the factory models. This division was renamed "Grand National" beginning in the 1950 season. 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 race cars with a stock-appearing body.
One of the tracks used in the inaugural season is still on today's premier circuit: Martinsville Speedway. Another old track which is still in use is Darlington Raceway, which opened in 1950. (The oldest track on today's Sprint Cup circuit is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway which dates back to 1909; however, the first Brickyard 400 did not take place until 1994.)
Richard Petty's 1970 426 C.I. Plymouth Superbird on displayMost races were on half-mile to one-mile (800 to 1600 m) oval tracks. However, the first "superspeedway" was built in Darlington, South Carolina, in 1950. This track, at 1.366 miles (2.22 km), was wider, faster and higher-banked than the racers had seen. Darlington was the premier event of the series until 1959. Daytona International Speedway, a 2.5-mile (4 km) high-banked track, opened in 1959, and became the icon of the sport. The track was built on a swamp, so France took a huge risk in building the track.
The first NASCAR competition held outside of the U.S. was in Canada, where on July 1, 1952, Buddy Shuman won a 200-lap race on a half-mile (800 m) dirt track in Stamford Park, Ontario, near Niagara Falls.
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 Company (RJR). Tobacco companies, which had been banned from television advertising, found a popular and demographically suitable consumer base in NASCAR fans and engaged NASCAR as a promotional outlet. As a result of that sponsorship, the Grand National Series became known as the Winston Cup Series (today called the Sprint Cup Series) starting in 1971, with a new points system and some significant cash benefits to compete for championship points. In 1972, the NASCAR season was shortened from 48 races (including two on dirt tracks) to 31. 1972 is often acknowledged as the beginning of NASCAR's "modern era". The next competitive level, called Late Model Sportsman, gained the "Grand National" title passed down from the top division and soon found a sponsor in Busch Beer.
ABC Sports aired partial or full live telecasts of Grand National races from Talladega, North Wilkesboro, Darlington, Charlotte, and Nashville in 1970. These events were less exciting than many GN races, and ABC abandoned live coverage. Races were instead broadcast, delayed and edited, 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 on CBS. The leaders going into the last lap, Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison, wrecked on the backstretch while dicing for the lead, allowing Richard Petty to pass them both and win the race. 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. Luckily for NASCAR, the race coincided with a major snowstorm along the United States' eastern seaboard, successfully introducing much of the captive audience to the sport.
The beginning of the modern era 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.
Main article: Sprint Cup Series
The "NASCAR Sprint Cup Series" is the sport's highest level of professional competition. It is consequently the most popular and most profitable NASCAR series. The 2006 Sprint Cup season consisted of 36 races over 10 months, with over $4 million in total prize money at stake at each race. Writers and fans often use "Cup" to refer to the Sprint Cup series and the ambiguous use of "NASCAR" as a synonym for the Sprint Cup series is common. The winner of the most recent season was Jimmie Johnson in 2008; Johnson was also the 2007 and 2006 champion. He is the first winner of three in a row since Cale Yarborough.
In 2004, NEXTEL took over sponsorship of the premier series from R. J. Reynolds, who had sponsored it as the Winston Cup from 1972 until 2003, and formally renamed it the NEXTEL Cup Series. A new championship points system, "The Chase for the NEXTEL Cup " was also developed, which reset the point standings with ten races to go, making only drivers in the top ten or within 400 points of the leader eligible to win the championship. In 2007, NASCAR announced it was expanding "The Chase" from ten to twelve drivers, eliminating the 400-point cutoff, and giving a ten-point bonus to the top twelve drivers for each of the races they have won out of the first 26. Wins throughout the season will also be worth five more points than in previous seasons. In 2008, the premier series title name became the Sprint Cup Series and The Chase for The NEXTEL Cup became the "Chase for the Sprint Cup", as part of the merger between NEXTEL and Sprint.
The Nationwide Series field following the pace car at the O'Reilly 300 at Texas Motor SpeedwayMain article: Nationwide Series
The "NASCAR Nationwide Series" is the second-highest level of professional competition in NASCAR. The most recent series champion was Clint Bowyer in 2008.
The modern incarnation of this series began in 1982, with sponsorship by Anheuser-Busch Brewing's Budweiser brand. In 1984 it was renamed to the Busch Grand National Series. The Anheuser-Busch sponsorship expired at the end of 2007, and the series is now sponsored by Nationwide Insurance. Nationwide will also become NASCAR's official insurance agency replacing Allstate.
The Nationwide Series is currently the only series of the top three to race outside the United States. The season is a few races shorter than that of the Sprint Cup, and the prize money is significantly lower. However, over the last several years, a number of Sprint Cup drivers have run both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup series events each weekend, using the Nationwide race as a warm-up to the Cup event at the same facility. Detractors of this practice believe this gives the Sprint Cup teams an unfair advantage, and that the presence of the Sprint Cup drivers squeezes out Nationwide Series competitors who would otherwise be able to qualify. These dual-series drivers have been labeled "Buschwhackers", a play on words which combines the original series sponsor's name with the notion of being bushwhacked. In May 2007, NNS director Joe Balash confirmed that NASCAR is exploring options to deal with the Buschwhacker controversy. One of the most often-cited proposals would be for Sprint Cup drivers participating in the Nationwide Series to receive no points for their participation in a Nationwide race. According to NASCAR Chairman Brian France, all options, except an outright ban of Cup competitors, are still being considered.
Beginning in 2009, the Nationwide cars will adapt somewhat to the current "Car of Tomorrow" (or COT) design used by Cup cars, although initially only minor changes will be made. Some critics hope that the discrepancy between the Nationwide and Sprint Cup cars will help solve the Buschwhacker problem by reducing the advantages of running both series.
Camping World Truck Series
Mike Skinner racing Todd Bodine in the Texas Craftsman Truck Series race.Main article: Camping World Truck Series
The '"NASCAR Camping World Truck Series" features modified pickup trucks. It is one of the three national divisions of NASCAR, together with the Nationwide Series and the Sprint Cup. The most recent series champion was Johnny Benson in 2008; It was Benson's first championship in the series.
In 1994, NASCAR announced the formation of the NASCAR SuperTruck Series presented by Craftsman. The first series race followed in 1995. In 1996, the series was renamed the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series to emphasize Craftsman's involvement. The series was first considered something of an oddity or a "senior tour" for NASCAR drivers, but eventually grew in popularity and has produced Sprint Cup series drivers who had never raced in the Nationwide Series.
Beginning in 2009 the series will become the Camping World Truck Series.
NASCAR Canadian Tire Series
Main article: NASCAR Canadian Tire Series
NASCAR announced the purchase of Canadian racing series CASCAR in September 2006. The CASCAR Western Series will become NASCAR's fourth-tier series starting in the Fall of 2007.
NASCAR Corona Series
Main article: NASCAR Corona Series
In December 2006, NASCAR also announced the creation of a new series in Mexico, the NASCAR Corona Series, replacing the existing Desafío Corona Series, to begin in 2007.
Regional racing series
In addition to the five main series, NASCAR operates several other racing circuits.
Many local race tracks across the United States and Canada run under the Whelen All-American Series banner, where local drivers are compared against each other in a formula where the best local track champion of the nation wins the Whelen All-American Weekly Series National Championship. The Whelen All-American series is split into four divisions. Each division champion receives a point-fund money payout and even more goes to the National champion (driver with most points out of the four division winners). The Whelen All-American Series is the base for stock car racing, developing NASCAR names such as Clint Bowyer, Jimmy Spencer, Tony Stewart, the Bodine brothers and many others along the way.
NASCAR also sanctions two regional racing divisions. The Whelen Modified Tour races open-wheel "modified" cars in Northern and Southern divisions. The Camping World Series, which consists of East and West divisions, race cars that are similar to Nationwide Series cars, although they are less powerful. In the past, NASCAR also sanctioned the AutoZone Elite Division, which raced late-model cars that were lighter and less powerful than Sprint Cup cars, and was originally split into four divisions: Northwest, Southwest, Southeast, and Midwest. At the end of 2005, NASCAR announced that the AutoZone Elite Division would be discontinued after the 2006 season due to having trouble securing NASCAR-sanctioned tracks to successfully host AutoZone Elite Division events, plus escalating costs of competing and downsizing of the Division in recent years.
In 2003, NASCAR standardized 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, called the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, to determine the annual AutoZone Elite and Grand National champions. This event has been hosted at Irwindale Speedway in California since its inception.
Many drivers move up through the series before reaching the Sprint Cup series. In 2002, over 9,000 drivers had licenses from NASCAR to race at all levels.