As many will tell you, NASCAR has emerged from less than respectable origins dating back to prohibition ere bootlegging. Legend has it that rum-runners would soup up their early 30s business coupes with whatever they had available in an effort to outrun the law. These hodgepodge racing machines would often pass one another on their routes, and as one might expect, somewhere along the line someone decided it would be great fun if they raced against one of their fellow comrades. These impromptu street races eventually were moved to closed circuit dirt ovals all over the Southeast. A few places in particular were fundamental in the process of creating what we now know today as NASCAR, and a road trip to see these locations would make any motorsports fan envious.
Daytona Beach, the Streamline Hotel, and State Road 1A1 in Daytona Beach, Florida
Daytona Beach, Florida — Photo courtesy of zqvol
Southbound from Daytona lays the historic Florida road 1A1 that runs the length of the Florida Atlantic coast. It was here that NASCAR was not only first conceived but officially established. In early 1935, the stretch of hard packed sand on Daytona Beach that ran parallel to 1A1 was the fastest place on earth. World record speed trials were held there from 1902 until late 1935 when the Bonneville Salt Flats gained favor due to the calmer winds and lack of ocean tides to deal with.
In 1935 the city of Daytona held a race on a 3.2-mile course that used half of the beach front and half of 1A1 in a hybrid sand/ asphalt track. The race ended up being a complete financial and entertainment failure, but that didn’t stop one of the drivers that weekend from thinking they could do it better. Bill France Sr. finished fifth that day, and in 1937 he held his own race at the same site, fixing many of the problems that plagued the 1935 race. This time it was a success, and Bill used the momentum to hold races until 1948 when, at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona, Bill France Sr. along with a large group of promoters, drivers and mechanics established the National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing: NASCAR.
Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida
The start/finish line of Daytona Internatioanl Speedway — Photo courtesy of Nancy Nally
In 1958, Daytona Beach and State Road 1A1 held its last race, and in February of 1959 the first Daytona 500 was held on the all-asphalt 2.5-mile speedway built by Bill France Sr. The race was spectacular and ended in a photo finish between Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp. After two days of deliberation, Lee Petty was declared the winner by a fender and the Daytona 500 has since become a national icon as the starting point of the American motorsports season. Museums and tours litter the land surrounding the speedway, and the history is thick in and around the track.
North Wilkesboro in Wilkes County, North Carolina
Known as the Key to the Blue Ridge, North Wilkesboro was a common stop for moonshiners back in the era of dry counties. One bootlegger in particular made a name for himself in 1956, when he was convicted and later pardoned by President Ronald Reagan, for moonshining: Junior Johnson. Johnson won several championships as a driver and car owner in NASCAR, and after his retirement he helped begin Piedmont Distillers, where he now distils spirits legally in nearby Madison, North Carolina. Located just outside of the town limits is North Wilkesboro Speedway, which hosted NASCAR races from 1948 until 1996. The small town is filled with a rich history dating back to Revolutionary War times, so history buffs and motorsports fans will find plenty to enjoy.
Talladega Super Speedway in Talladega, Alabama
Talladega Super Speedway — Photo courtesy of Brian Cantoni
Talladega is a track that is as frightening as it is historical. Legend has it that the local Indian tribes who were driven out centuries ago laid a curse on the land. Others say it was a burial site for the tribe. Despite the spooky lore, Bill France Sr., now president of NASCAR, bought the old abandoned Army airfield and built up the biggest and fastest closed circuit oval in the world.
What happened in the following years only fueled the rumors of the track’s curse. The first race in 1969 was a near disaster as drivers formed a union and boycotted the race due to safety concerns. Later, champion Bobby Isaac parked his car in the pits during the middle of a race because he heard voices telling him to stop. Bobby Alison once blew a tire in 1987 and took out a 100-foot section of track fencing, somehow not harming a single person in the stands. Talladega has also become legendary for the sheer number of massive accidents and close finishes decided by hundredths of a second. Watching a race or simply driving by the facility and seeing its incredible size would be an event to remember.
The International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega Alabama
Located just a few hundred feet outside of the speedway is the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. The facility is predominantly NASCAR focused, but it features several exhibits dedicated to all forms of motorsports from all over the world. The Hall of Fame also acts as a museum with dozens of cars and even the fastest boat in the world on display. Anyone who has even the slightest interest in racing of any kind will no doubt find plenty worth traveling to see.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina
NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, NC — Photo courtesy of Daniel Lobo
Opened in 2010, The NASCAR Hall of Fame resides in the middle of downtown Charlotte, North Carolina near the Charlotte Convention Center. Thus far three classes have been inducted, with another class announced for 2013. This facility is the ultimate in NASCAR history and archives every major event in the history of the sport. There are more than thirty cars on display and almost fifty hands-on exhibits in the 10,000 square foot facility. Artifacts from Junior Johnson’s old moonshining stills to Daytona 500 winning cars are all on display with meticulous attention to detail and accuracy.