The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) is a family-owned and -operated business venture that sanctions and governs multiple auto racing sports events. It was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1947–48. As of 2009, the CEO for the company is Brian France, grandson of the late Bill France Sr. NASCAR is the largest sanctioning body of stock car racing in the United States. The three largest racing series sanctioned by NASCAR are the Sprint Cup Series, the Nationwide Series, and the Camping World Truck Series. It also oversees NASCAR Local Racing, the Whelen Modified Tour, the Whelen All-American Series, and the NASCAR iRacing.com Series. NASCAR sanctions over 1500 races at over 100 tracks in 39 states, and Canada. NASCAR has presented exhibition races at the Suzuka and Motegi circuits in Japan, Mexico, and Calder Park Raceway in Australia.
NASCAR's headquarters are located in Daytona Beach, Florida, although it also maintains offices in four North Carolina cities: Charlotte, Mooresville, Concord, and Conover. Regional offices are also located in New York City, Los Angeles, Bentonville, Arkansas, and international offices in Mexico City and Toronto. Additionally, owing to its southern roots, all but a handful of NASCAR teams are still based in North Carolina, especially near Charlotte.
NASCAR is one of the most viewed professional sports in terms of television ratings in the United States. In fact, professional football is the only sport in the United States to hold more viewers than NASCAR. Internationally, NASCAR races are broadcast in over 150 countries. NASCAR holds 17 of the top 20 attended single-day sporting events in the world, and claims 75 million fans who purchase over $3 billion in annual licensed product sales. Fortune 500 companies sponsor NASCAR more than any other motor sport, although this has been in decline since the early 2000s.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Daytona Beach became known as the place to set world land speed records, supplanting France and Belgium as the preferred location for land speed records, with eight consecutive world records set between 1927 and 1935. After a historic race between Ransom Olds and Alexander Winton in 1903, the beach became a mecca for racing enthusiasts and 15 records were set on what became the Daytona Beach road course between 1905 and 1935. By the time the Bonneville Salt Flats became the premier location for pursuit of land speed records, in 1936, Daytona beach had become synonymous with fast cars. Drivers raced on a 4.1-mile (6.6 km) course, consisting of a 1.5 to 2-mile (3.2 km) stretch of beach as one straightaway, and a narrow blacktop beachfront highway, A1A, as the other. The two straights were connected by 2 tight, deeply rutted and sand covered turns at each end.
Stock car racing in the United States has its origins in bootlegging during Prohibition, when drivers ran bootleg whiskey made primarily in the Appalachian region of the United States. Bootleggers needed to distribute their illicit products, and they typically used small, fast vehicles to better evade the police. Many of the drivers would modify their cars for speed and handling, as well as increased cargo capacity, and some of them came to love the fast-paced driving down twisty mountain roads.
The repeal of Prohibition in 1933 dried up some of their business, but by then Southerners had developed a taste for moonshine, and a number of the drivers continued "runnin' shine," this time evading the "revenuers" who were attempting to tax their operations. The cars continued to improve, and by the late 1940s, races featuring these cars were being run for pride and profit. These races were popular entertainment in the rural Southern United States, and they are most closely associated with the Wilkes County region of North Carolina. Most races in those days were of modified cars. Street vehicles were lightened and reinforced.
Although NASCAR frequently publicizes the safety measures it mandates for drivers, these features are often only adopted long after they were initially developed, and only in response to an injury or fatality. The impact-absorbing "SAFER Barrier" that is now in use had been proposed by legendary mechanic Smokey Yunick during the 1970s, but his idea had been dismissed as too expensive and unnecessary. Only after the deaths of Kenny Irwin, Tony Roper, Adam Petty, and Dale Earnhardt in 2000 and 2001 did NASCAR revisit the idea of decreasing the G-forces a driver sustained during a crash. Other examples of available safety features that were slow to be implemented include the mandating of a throttle "kill switch". The "kill switch" was mandated after the death of Adam Petty, along with the requirements of an anti-spill bladder in fuel cells. Fire-retardant driver suits were required only after the death of Glen "Fireball" Roberts, who died from complications of burns suffered in a crash when flames engulfed his car during a Charlotte race. Dale Earnhardt was killed after he received massive head and neck trauma from a hard crash in the 2001 Daytona 500. Earnhardt's death prompted NASCAR to require all drivers to use the "HANS Device" (Head And Neck Support Device), a device that keeps the driver's neck from going forward in a wreck. In the mid 2000s, NASCAR redesigned the racing vehicle with safety improvements, calling it the Car of Tomorrow. The car has a higher roof, wider cockpit, and the driver seat was located more toward the center of the vehicle.
Similar to other professional leagues and sanctioning bodies, NASCAR has been the target of criticism on various topics from various sources. Some critics note the significant differences between today's NASCAR vehicles and true "stock" cars. Others frequently cite the dominance of the France family in NASCAR's business structure, policies, and decision making. Recently, the increased number of Cup drivers competing consistently in the Nationwide Series races has been hotly debated. Another general area of criticism, not only of NASCAR but other motorsports as well, includes questions about fuel consumption, emissions and pollution, and the use of lead additives in the gasoline. NASCAR moved to unleaded fuel for all three top series in 2007, fully one year in advance of the planned switch in 2008. While other series, such as the FIA Formula One series have addressed these criticisms by instituting "green" mandates, NASCAR has not. As NASCAR has made moves to improve its national appeal, it has begun racing at new tracks, and ceased racing at some traditional ones — a sore spot for the traditional fan base. Most recently, NASCAR has been challenged on the types and frequency of caution flags, with some critics suggesting the outcome of races is being manipulated, and that the intention is not safety, as NASCAR claims, but closer racing. There have been numerous accidents during races and even some off the tracks, with several spectators receiving fatal injuries. It was revealed in 2008 that one wrongful death lawsuit against NASCAR was settled for $2.4 million.