NASCAR is an acronym that stands for National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing, a sanctioning body for stock car racing in America ranging all the way from local dirt track racing on up to the national Nextel Cup Series (now the Sprint Cup, as of the 2008 season). NASCAR is currently developing the Sprint Cup Series into a major American sport, along with taking their brand international with their second-tier series, the Busch Series (now the Nationwide Series, as of the 2008 season). NASCAR still has strong roots in the American Southeast, which is its primary fanbase, but it is now considered a staple of American life.
NASCAR was founded in 1948 by William "Bill" France Sr. in Daytona Beach, Florida, as a response to issues with the disorganized nature of stock car racing at the time. Over the next two-plus decades, France would successfully organize stock car racing into divisions, with the top one originally being known as "strictly stock", for how the almost entirely all-American cars were not allowed to be modified. When that rule was relaxed later on, the top division was renamed the "Grand National". Most races of the early days were run on short oval tracks of the American Southeast, although with some exceptions, notably Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina and then Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, which became NASCAR's premier track in 1959 after replacing the actual sandy beach that had previously been used.
As the sport grew, NASCAR underwent a transformation in the early 1970s. In 1970, NASCAR signed a title sponsorship deal with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, renaming their top division the "Winston Cup" Series, and giving the title of Grand National to the second division. Two years later, Reynolds would push NASCAR into dropping all dirt tracks and races of under 100 miles. These moves marked the beginning of NASCAR's modern era, and would be key to NASCAR's growth into the top level of American motorsports. That growth would be accomplished without the sport's founder, though, as Bill France Sr. retired in 1970 and his son, Bill France Jr., replaced him.
Over the next nearly three decades, NASCAR would grow steadily and would expand around the country. A good portion of its growth can be attributed to the success and popularity of its two great superstars, Richard Petty and then Dale Earnhardt. Combined, these two won a grand total of fourteen Winston Cup Series Championships, along with eight Daytona 500 titles, which had become the series' premier race at the beginning of each season. Into the 1990s, the days of the two superstars began to dwindle, which can partially be attributed to the now advanced development of the still all-American cars and the fact that most races were by then run on superspeedways around the country rather than Southeastern short tracks. Petty retired in 1992, while Earnhardt continued on into the new millennium before being tragically killed in a last-lap accident at the 2001 Daytona 500 that shocked the racing world and brought about further developments in driver safety on top of previous advances. By then, a new stock of talent had taken over the top NASCAR tier, which was renamed to the "NEXTEL Cup" in 2004 after NEXTEL Communications took over the title sponsorship from R.J. Reynolds. Top names of the new millennium came to be Jeff Gordon, who won four series titles after ironically making his debut in Petty's final race, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., the popular son of the late Dale Sr. that achieved success by winning the Daytona 500 in 2004.
In the lower levels of NASCAR, a pickup-truck racing series sponsored by Craftsman tools in 1995. The series has been hugely successful, especially in providing appeal back to the conservative American base. In the new millennium, the now-titled Nationwide Series expanded internationally with races in Mexico in 2005 and one in Canada in 2007. In addition to all its regular local racing series, NASCAR also began running national series in Canada and Mexico in 2007.
Currently, the Sprint Cup runs a thirty-six race season, with forty-three cars participating in each. Most of the races are run on mid length oval tracks, but there also two races on road courses and two "restrictor place races" at tracks where the cars need to wear restrictor plates on their engines to slow down their high speeds, with one of these tracks being Daytona, the other Talladega. Top racers currently include the previously mentioned Jeff Gordon, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., along with Gordon's teammate, Jimmie Johnson, and former Indy racer Tony Stewart. The 2007 season saw the debut of the Sprint Cup series' first foreign carmaker in many years with Toyota, who had previously run the Craftsman Truck Series for a few years before joining the ranks of Chevrolet, Ford, and Dodge. Additionally, NASCAR also began running the "Car of Tomorrow" that it had developed, with the new model expected to be used for all races in 2008.
The Wildest Ride: A History of NASCAR (or How a Bunch of Good Ol' Boys Built a Billion-Dollar Industry out of Wrecking Cars) by Joe Menzer