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Effects Prohibition Had On Stock Car Racing

(9/24/2020) Fairfield, IL... NASCAR has been a staple in the United States since the 1930s and moonshine has been around since colonial times. Prohibition along with the invention of the automobile helped both of these industries take off. Moonshiners created bootlegging and this then led to the creation of the great sport of NASCAR. NASCAR originated in the southeast and along the Appalachian Mountains, where the majority of moonshiners were and still are today. NASCAR is still active today racing throughout the country but mainly in the eastern half of the country.

Moonshining stretched from North Carolina to Washington, but Appalachia country was the hot bed. In the Appalachians moonshine had been made since before the Revolutionary War. The federal government then put a tax on liquor. For three years after that moonshiners held off tax collectors and that forced a U.S. Marshal to be brought in to collect the taxes. In response over five hundred men attacked the area’s tax inspectors' home. One of the commanders was killed and this sparked over six thousand people to protest. This became known as the Whiskey Rebellion. Moonshining became illegal in 1862, because shiners would not put their revenue from shine on taxes. This did not stop anyone from shining as it continued to grow and become a popular way to make good money. As you can see the war against moonshining has been around for centuries.

The invention of the automobile created bootlegging. Bootlegging is the illegal transportation of alcohol. With Prohibition coming into effect in 1920, bootleggers really had to make their cars go faster as the consequences of getting caught with alcohol were a lot worse. The Great Depression at the end of 1929 got more people into bootlegging. There was good money and people did whatever they could to get by at the time. The new Ford V-8 in 1932 was a car that could get away from authorities and be modified easily. “Bootleggers had experimented with different cars over time, but they were never quite fast enough for their tastes. It turns out Ford accidentally created the perfect moonshine delivery vehicle. With the Ford V-8, suddenly there was an engine that was a match for their profession. It was fast enough to stay one step ahead of the law, rugged enough for the mountain roads and had a big enough trunk and back seat to squeeze in moonshine,” says Neal Thompson, author of Driving with the Devil: Southern Moonshine, Detroit Wheels, and the Birth of NASCAR. (History, 2017)

Robert Johnson Jr. or better known as Junior Johnson was one of NASCAR’s earliest competitors. He had been in the moonshining business since a very young age. His ancestors had been making shine since the days of the Whiskey Rebellion which occurred in the late 1700s. As a young boy, there were so many cases of moonshine in the house he had to climb over stacks of them to go to bed each night. His home was raided in 1935 and his father was arrested. The authorities removed over seven thousand gallons of moonshine. At the time, it was the largest ever inland seizure of illegal alcohol. He states that “Moonshining was part of my growing up, but it was also part of my training in auto racing. Being in that business, you had to have a very fast car and you had to be able to outrun the revenuers or highway patrol or sheriff or whoever tried to pursue you to try and apprehend you,” Johnson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1990. He also told the BBC that “If it hadn’t been for whiskey, NASCAR wouldn’t have been formed. That’s a fact.” (Klein, 2017)

In bootleggers' free time they would race their cars against one another. Honing in their skills for when they have high speed chases with the authorities. The mountains creating twisty and dirt roads gave the bootleggers a real advantage when being chased. The bootleggers knew the roads like the back of their hands and would resort to them if in a high speed chase. This is how NASCAR was born. (NASCAR Rooted in Prohibition Bootlegging - Prohibition: An Interactive History. (n.d.)

During the 1930s bootleggers began racing their cars at local tracks and fairgrounds. Civilians started showing up and watching them race. Thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of people would show up to watch them race. As more people began to show up, the bootleggers began to charge the spectators hoping to earn a little money. With the large number of people showing up, the bootleggers were convinced that they could start racing on a regular basis. The first big stock car race was at Atlanta’s Lakewood Speedway in 1938, with over twenty thousand people in attendance. The race was won by Lloyd Seay, his teammate and cousin would go on to win the national stock car championship in 1941.

Racing resumed in 1945 after the conclusion of World War II. After a major riot at the Atlanta Lakewood Speedway race in September of 1945, the bootleggers were no longer welcomed back to the speedway. After that a notorious bootlegger named Bill France began to recruit other bootleggers to race in the Carolinas and Virginia. In December of 1947 Bill France and other leaders of the stock car industry gathered in Daytona Beach, Florida to discuss formatting and rules. After the meeting, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) had been officially created. The first NASCAR race was held in Daytona Beach, Florida. (NASCAR, n.d.) “I don’t believe NASCAR would have developed as quickly or in the same way without the moonshine money from Raymond Parks and others that helped sustain it through those early years,” Neal Thompson states. Red Byron won the first two championships of the new formed sport.

With the sport quickly growing, Bill France sought to distance the sport from its early moonshine origins. Under his leadership NASCAR welcomed corporate sponsorship and degraded its past with bootlegging. “France saw an opportunity to develop NASCAR into more of a family-friendly sport that could make more money over time, and to do that he needed to downplay the connection between the sport and its illegal roots,” Thompson notes. “He worked very quickly in the 1950s to whitewash the connection between the sport and moonshiners.” (Klein, 2017)

Today NASCAR is fueled by corporate sponsorship and a family friendly sport. Grain alcohol today is only used as fuel for the cars. NASCAR’s bootlegging history is now starting to be recognized with Junior Johnson being a NASCAR Hall of Fame member. Also Raymond Parks who put together the first race team and was very instrumental in the beginning of the sport is another NASCAR Hall of Fame Member. (Billock, 2017) Prohibition created the need for the smuggling of alcohol and the best ones who did it, were the ones who constructed NASCAR.

-Lucas Halbert

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