A Fast History of the Daytona 500

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In 1948, the National Association for Stock Car Racing (NASCAR as many know it) officially incorporated and laid the groundwork for what would become one of the most popular sports in the world. Specifically, Bill France is the driving force behind NASCAR, as he saw a need for a governing body to create uniform rules and prevent unscrupulous race promoters from stealing prize money. France was a mechanic from Washington, D.C., that moved to Daytona, Florida, in the 1930s—the epicenter for race fans and enthusiasts. He gathered members of the racing community to discuss his idea of governing body, and from there they created NASCAR. He served as the first president and was a key player in the early shaping of the organization and played a major role in the Daytona 500.

The First Daytona 500

Daytona, Florida, is important to stock car racing for more reasons than it’s the birthplace of NASCAR. The biggest and most popular race of the year occurs there every year—the Daytona 500. The first running of the race was in February of 1959 at the newly opened Daytona International Speedway. Bill France, the owner of this track) hosted the race and declared Johnny Beauchamp. However, another driver, Lee Petty, challenged the decision. Three days later, the committee crowned him the winner with the help of photographers from local news stations. Speculation and rumors surrounded the initial decision, with some saying that France named Beauchamp the winner to stir up controversy and create publicity for the race and the track. It seems to have worked.

What It Is Today

NASCAR has become a global sports entertainment force, drawing in race fans from all over the world. Fans flock to race tracks with radios, scanners, and coolers to cheer on their favorite race teams and drivers. Today, the Daytona 500 is the biggest race in NASCAR, drawing around 250,000 fans to the track and over 19 million viewers at home. Additionally, the Daytona 500 bucks the trend of all other sports by having the biggest race at the start of the season. This is unlike the Super Bowl, World Series, and Stanley Cup Finals, which all occur at the end of the season. Many fans can agree that crowning a champion at the beginning of the season gets everyone pumped to see what these drivers have to offer all year.

Written by Kevin O'Neill

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