Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: What’s So Great About the Great American Race

In sports, it’s no secret that traditionally, a league’s biggest event of the year is typically its last one.

It’s also no secret that those same principles are not true in NASCAR.

For as long as most fans remember, the Daytona 500 has been the kickoff event for one of the longest seasons in the country.

For more than 36 straight weeks, some of the most talented wheelmen in the world will duke it out while crisscrossing the country in haulers decked out with space-age technology.

That all starts this Sunday, though, with the Great American Race. But why?

To know Daytona is to know Bill France, the founder of NASCAR and father of Jim France, the company’s current CEO.

See also
Bringing the Heat: Recapping Daytona 500 Media Day

After moving to the Daytona area from Washington to escape the Great Depression, France eventually found himself running his own repair shop at 316 Main Street Station in Daytona Beach, Fla., a location that still stands to this day. A lifelong race fan, France dove head first into the motorsport culture in the area, particularly of the beachfront, land speed record sort.

However, the beach was becoming too rutted to hold drivers who wished to attempt such records. This led to a new focus: races.

Years passed, and France’s love for the sport grew. He began to host races himself on the Daytona sand. In 1950, Harold Brasington finished construction of his superspeedway in Darlington, S.C., and the Southern 500 was born. France had founded NASCAR by then and saw the popularity of Brasington’s track and event skyrocketing.

In 1959, after running, presiding over and watching many a race on the hard-packed sand of Daytona Beach and the adjacent highway, France’s magnum opus was completed. The 2.5 mile tri-oval that would later become the staple of the sport was finished.

NASCAR had its first two jewels in the crown that would become the spectacle that fans know today.

The first 500-mile race held at France’s new complex was in 1959 in front of a crowd of 41,921 spectators. Lee Petty won the inaugural race at France’s new motorsport haven and thus laid the foundation for the future of the sport. Attendance numbers between the new Daytona International Speedway and Darlington Raceway were bounced back and forth for decades after, and still are.

However, it wasn’t until 1982 that the race came to be the classic dosage of Americana that race fans know it as today. That was the first year that the Daytona 500 was the kickoff event for the NASCAR season.

And now, after all this time, the event has become a fixture in the sporting world. The Masters isn’t the last event on the PGA calendar, but everyone knows when it is, what it is and what it’s about. Wimbledon will always be Wimbledon. In a similar vein, Daytona will always be Daytona. It’s what the event stands for to the fans — the cultural significance of twisted metal, banging gears and loud V8 engines.

To the drivers involved, though, it is the Super Bowl. As history tells us, anyone can win at Daytona on any given day. The purses are among if not the highest in the sport. Sure, everyone wants a championship trophy in the case, but every driver wants that Daytona trophy just as bad.

See also
2-Headed Monster: Should Daytona Host the Season Opener?

For the teams, the cars get tested as early as possible in one of the toughest environments the sport has to offer. Full speed, all day long, in front of throngs of screaming race fans.

And ever since the 500 began — long before it kicked off the season — it’s produced some of the greatest and most-talked-about moments in NASCAR Cup Series history. Watch any highlight reel of NASCAR competition and you’ll be hard pressed to avoid the Daytona 500.

It’s as American as apple pie and Bruce Springsteen, as loud as a Creedence Clearwater Revival concert, as unpredictable and high speed as it gets and as fun as any night on Talladega Boulevard.

It’s the Great American Race for a reason.

About the author

Tanner Marlar is a staff writer for On3 Sports' Maroon and White Daily covering Mississippi State Athletics, an AP Wire reporter, an award-winning sports columnist and talk show host and master's student at Mississippi State University. Soon, Tanner will be pursuing a PhD. in Communicative Research.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

4 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Joshua Farmer

Yes! Another Frontstretch writer that knows how to build the sport up!

DoninAjax

To answer the headline….ABSOLUTELY NOTHING SINCE 2004!

“Watch any highlight reel of NASCAR competition and you’ll be hard pressed to avoid the Daytona 500”

All they show now are the demo derby wrecks, the more cars the better.

Last edited 2 months ago by DoninAjax
Bill B

Wait a minute!!!
I thought ABSOLUTELY NOTHING was the answer to “war, war, what is it good for”.

So that changed in 2004?

Last edited 2 months ago by Bill B
DoninAjax

It took on a whole new meaning when the “brilliant” ideas started.

Share via