NASCAR: A Yankee Pastime

On Sunday The Dallas Morning News ran a piece reiterating the myth that NASCAR was once a regional--specifically southeastern--sport that has suddenly expanded into the major urban markets. Strangely, even NASCAR officials adhere to this and other myths (such as the disregard for non-southern drivers). Long-time fans are not so much disenchanted with the sport due to expansion into "new" markets. Rather, they are concerned with the common template, which turns Fords, Chevys, Dodges and, presumably, the upcoming Toyota entry into fictions, and with the emphasis on marketable faces. The loss of traditional circuits, well, consider that the same as the outcry over destroying classic baseball stadiums.

Now, back to the original point. In the 1940s and 50s, this "regional" sport raced in: California (places like Los Angeles, Oakland, San Mateo, San Jose), Arizona (Phoenix and Tucson), New York (including Rochester, Syracuse, Long Island), New Jersey, Connecticut, Oregon (Portland), Washington (Bremerton), Pennsylvania, Ohio (Columbus), Indiana, Michigan (Detroit and Grand Rapids), South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois (yep, Chicago), Wisconsin, Oklahoma (OK City), Nevada (Las Vegas). Oh, and Canada--including once in Toronto.

In 1951, 21 of the 41 points races took place north of the Mason-Dixon and west of the Mississippi. In fact, NASCAR's concentration in the southeast began during the latter half of the 1960s and was solidified when Winston started sponsoring the series in the early 1970s and asked the governing body to shorten its schedule. Even then, southern California tracks remained until L.A. sprawl forced developers to turn Ontario and Riverside into housing projects. Last race outside of L.A. before the new track? 1988. What short memories we have.

Nothing existed before television, anyway. And the networks refused to carry live NASCAR races until 1979. As for southern drivers...let's see: Neil Cole from New Jersey, Lou Figaro of L.A., Lloyd Moore from New York, Johnny Mantz out of Long Beach. Hell, the first driver to die in a NASCAR race was Larry Mann of Yonkers; I do believe that's in New York. NASCAR featured three female drivers the first year (1949). There have been foreign drivers--and, once, foreign cars--as well as a couple of black drivers.

I just wish some writer would, one day, explore the mythology of NASCAR and why officials and the media continue to perpetuate the myths. Final example: About a decade ago The Wall Street Journal claimed that Darrell Waltrip's deal with Tide in the late '80s was the first sponsorship outside of auto parts, gas products and beer. Guess that Holly Farms chicken car almost three decades earlier or the Coca-Cola and Army cars in the '70s didn't count. --Dave Faries

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky