The big man had big dreams - and he made them come true. William Henry Getty France is the founding father of the National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing (NASCAR), considered the most popular form of motorsports in the United States. From humble beginnings, he directed it through uncertain growth and into the multimillion-dollar industry it is today.

     Along the way, he saw come into being three visions: visions that would enhance the entire world of racing. The first was Daytona International Speedway, a 2.5-mile track which opened in 1959 and is the home of the most prestigious stock car race of them all, the Daytona 500.

     The second was the Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Ala., formerly called Alabama International Motor Speedway. At 2.66 miles, it is the largest and fastest track in the world. It opened in 1969.

     Finally, there is the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, located adjacent to Talladega Superspeedway. This tribute to the great people and machines embraced France and 19 others on a memorable July 25, 1990.

     As a teenager growing up around Washington, D.C., France was captivated by racing. He would often play hooky to catch the races at the high-banked board track in Laurel, Md. He even managed to get the family car on the track for a few laps. The hardest thing for him to do was to keep a straight face when he went down to the tire dealer to complain about the tires wearing out on his Model T.

     France became a service station owner and determined that if he had to help get customers' cars started, he might as well do it where the weather was warm. So he took his wife Anne, his young son Bill Jr., a set of tools, $25 cash and a Hupmobile and headed for Florida. When they got to Daytona Beach, France thought it was the prettiest place he'd ever seen, so they settled there.

     In 1936, the city of Daytona Beach promoted a stock car race and lost money. The following year, the Elks Club did likewise. Since racers gathered at France's service station, he was asked if he would like to help promote the next event. He tried to enlist the help of an Orange City, Fla., promoter, but his 15-cent collect call was refused. France decided to do it himself.

     France was successful and branched out to other races. The going was tough. The sport was haphazard and lacked respect. France amended that in 1947. In the now-famous meeting in the Streamline Hotel, he organized NASCAR, complete with uniform rules, an insurance plan and guaranteed purses.

     From its rough-and-tumble early days, NASCAR grew into a giant. It became the circuit which provided motorsports with many of its greatest drivers and events. And the speedways in Daytona and Talladega, along with the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, remain titanic testaments to one man's visions, ambition and determination.

Bill France, Sr., Inducted 1990

 

William Henry Getty (Big Bill) France was born in Washington, D.C. His first race car had a wooden body covered with canvas, and he raced it on local tracks area. After graduating from high school, Bill worked for a gas station and a car dealer in Washington before moving his family to Daytona.

In 1936 Bill and Sig Haughdal laid out the first beach-road course. The course ran south on A1A, turned across the dunes to the beach just south of the measured mile course, and came back up the beach to the North Turn. The American Automobile Association, which had timed the speed runs on the beach, sanctioned the first 250-mile stock car race in 1936. The purse was $5,000, and the competition was limited to strictly stock automobiles.

France entered the 1936 race in a ‘35 Ford. He started tenth -- eight minutes after the first car. The race was a scorer’s nightmare because of the deep ruts in the turns, and no one is really sure who won, but France officially finished fifth.

 

Years later Bill admitted that living in Daytona and driving the sand on a regular basis gave him an advantage. “If you went too slow, you mired down and had to be towed out. If you went too fast, you dug in and flipped.

When the Daytona Elks Club declined France’s offer to sponsor a race in 1938, France became a driver-promoter. With Charlie Reese he formed the Daytona Beach Racing Association. But racing had two major problems: cheating and dishonest promoters. France was determined to correct both. In 1938 he established a post-race inspection. If the inspectors discovered any deviation between the car and the manufacturer’s specifications, the car was disqualified.

On December 14, 1947, he solved the second problem by calling to order the first meeting of the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona. The rest is history!

Bill France Sr. and Roy Hall

Historically speaking

Despite success, NASCAR keeps a
bit of its past around in the garage

By KEN WILLIS (ken.willis@news-jrnl.com)
Sports Columnist

One of the neat and unique things about NASCAR is that you can walk through the garage area on any given Sunday and possibly see someone who was there at the beginning.

 
N-J file/Jack Jesse
Bill France Sr. and Bill France Jr. sit on the wall on pit road at Daytona International Speedway in 1972. Bill Sr., left, stepped down as leader of NASCAR and turned the operations over to his eldest son.
You can't visit the Soldier Field locker room and chat with George Halas, drop by the St. Andrews clubhouse and sip bourbon with Old Tom Morris or take a steam at the Springfield YMCA with Jimmy Naismith.

But you can visit Daytona or Darlington or Richmond and possibly run into a Junie Donlavey or Paul Sawyer or Bud Moore -- men who can tell you what the sport was like when you could still catch a whiff of corn liquor in the trunks of the competing automobiles.

The history of stock car racing, which eventually became synonymous with NASCAR, carries some of the mythological qualities found in the history of baseball. Its deep well of characters, charm and grit make its story something of a cross between "The Great Gatsby" and "The Beverly Hillbillies."

A quick tour through the museum shows you how we got where we are today . . .

THE ROAD ENDS HERE

William Henry Getty France -- Big Bill, a young family man and mechanic -- tired of the cold weather in Washington, D.C., in 1934 loaded up wife Anne and infant son Billy and pointed the family sedan toward Miami Beach. Convenient legend suggests Big Bill developed car trouble while still several hours north of his destination, and simply pulled up short in the Daytona Beach area.

Big Bill laughed years later, noting that he was a mechanic and if he'd had car trouble, he would've fixed it himself. Over the years, people who ended up on the wrong end of Big Bill's arbitrary decisions would angrily point out that as a mechanic, Big Bill made a helluva race promoter. So yes, it might've actually been a bad fuel line or carburetor that left the France clan several hours short of the Fontenbleau.

As for his eventual settlement here, Big Bill, who already had racing in his blood before heading south, would credit the lure of Daytona's history of speed runs on the hard-packed beach. Since Hooters, the Shark Lounge and Boot Hill Saloon were nowhere in sight, what else could it have been -- except, of course, the toll-free beach of the day?

Regardless, if not for whatever forced Big Bill to make a left turn that day, today we might be heading to Dade County for the Miami 500. Then again, maybe not, since we all know what a tough sell auto racing is down there.

Miami International Speedway? Miami USA? Would Buddy Baker reflect fondly upon the records he set in a Dodge Miami? Hard to imagine, so let's don't.

Imagine approaching the county administration offices today with plans to take, oh, a few dozen street cars and run them in an automobile race on a track that includes a couple miles of beach and a couple miles of A1A. As soon as the Risk Management Director awoke from his fainting spell, he'd likely arrange for your public flogging at the hands of the Turtle Patrol.

Let's just say the environmental rules of the 1930s were a little lax compared to today.

Throughout the land, many tracks were still dirt. More and more were moving to asphalt. Daytona combined both. And today they think it's tough finding the right tire for Rockingham?

You want soft walls? Try finding barriers softer than sand dunes, palmetto scrubs and the Atlantic Ocean.

Somehow, Big Bill brought some semblance of order to the beach races of the late '40s and 1950s. One nagging problem involved spectators who would sneak across the palmetto-thick sand dunes to watch for free. He tried holding down that crowd with well-placed signs warning people to beware of rattlesnakes. Whether he was aware that there really were rattlesnakes out there (big ones, too), who knows?

These days, by the way, most of the snakes are wearing blazers.

THE STREAMLINE

In December of 1947, Big Bill convened what amounted to a "constitutional convention" for stock car racing. Racers, promoters, car owners and even a journalist or two joined him atop the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach. There were no powdered wigs, quill pens or Jeffersonian documents, but that didn't keep things from getting done.

Big Bill's idea. Big Bill's town. Big Bill at the head of the table. When time came to name someone to head up this new racing organization, the selection of Big Bill was hardly the upset of the ages. Out of the smoke of that top-floor tavern, NASCAR was born. Whether organizational papers were drawn in time to write off the bar tab as a business expense, no one knows.

Big Bill had a league. He also had a hometown race, but the tide was turning, literally and figuratively, and Big Bill had a hankering to get into the track-ownership game.

He saw what was happening at Darlington, where the new odd-shaped track was drawing big crowds. And better yet, no sand dunes at Darlington, just a fence that some of the non-ticketed clientele tried to climb.

Son Billy, with help of a few others, had the job of grabbing ankles and yanking the gate crashers back to earth. Later, Billy and friends would sell snowcones to the crowd, thus enlightening the family to the future of concessions, as well as racetracks with fences.

THE BIG TRACK

After roughly 50,000 backslaps, 42,500 handshakes, a little cursing and the usual amount of political promises (a few of them even kept), Big Bill finally convinced local leaders to help him build his dream track on the west side of town. Why not? What could ever come of that godforsaken swampland anyway, right?

He received a friendly lease. The whiners equate Big Bill's negotiated lease to a handful of magic beans, but compared to what some of these silk-suited rattlers squeeze out of municipalities today, Big Bill might've sold himself short (well, there is that tax-funded pedestrian bridge, but one giveaway every 40-some years ain't bad).

The budding Speedway was truly a mom-and-pop organization, with Big Bill trying to milk seed money from anyone with a pulse (and a few who could barely fog a mirror), wife Anne keeping the books and son Billy taking turns on the grader.

It's been suggested that someone spilled a drink on the original plans for the 2-mile oval one day, smearing the ink in a way that resulted in a 2-mile configuration that coined the term "tri-oval." Whatever, the result was the third marvel of American racecourses -- there was the flat and rectangular Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the egg-shaped track at Darlington and now this high-banked beast that would whiten the most leathered knuckles of the bravest stock car racers of the day.

A FEW LABOR PAINS

Over the next decade, perhaps the two most important episodes in NASCAR (as for future consequences) took place off the track. Both involved drivers' efforts to organize as a group, and Big Bill's ability to beat back another tide -- this one deeper and saltier than anything he faced on the beach.

First it was Curtis Turner, with the help of Teamsters head Jimmy Hoffa, who tried to organize the drivers. Big Bill won; Curtis was banned.

Then at the end of the 1960s, the drivers balked at the thought of running France's newest monster, Talladega Superspeedway, which was basically Daytona on steroids. At newfound high speeds, drivers considered the tires so potentially deadly they should've been ticking. Big Bill won again. He let the drivers walk away, held the race anyway and the unlikely name of Richard Brickhouse stands out in the list of Talladega winners.

Right or wrong, if Big Bill had ever lost one of those battles with potential unionization, ARCA could be king today.

SMOKE 'EM IF YOU GOT 'EM

Junior Johnson once said he was looking for about $800,000 in the early 1970s to fund his race team. He talked to the people from R.J. Reynolds, who were looking for new ways to advertise their cigarettes, since their ads had been banned from television and radio.

When the Reynolds people told Junior how much they were looking to spend, Junior realized that maybe he should've dumped the whiskey and been running trunkloads of tobacco through the Carolina mountains all those years. Whatever Junior's motive -- pure generosity or an effort to curry favor with NASCAR (remember, Junior's cars won six championships over a 10-year span soon thereafter) -- he pointed Reynolds brass toward Big Bill's office.

The Winston Cup Series was born. It's hard to tell who got the best of the deal through the years -- NASCAR or R.J. Reynolds. Winston has gotten so much mileage out of this marketing vehicle, no one notices that none of the drivers regularly uses the product. And NASCAR has gotten so much out of the relationship, the walls of NASCAR's palatial headquarters are papered with brown leaf.

Well, maybe not, but consider this: A few years back when Big Bill's son, Bill Jr. (not really a junior, but why quibble at this point?), suffered a heart attack, he was naturally advised by doctors to quit smoking. He wouldn't fully admit to quitting -- "just red-flagged it for a while," is how he described a personal tobacco moratorium that reportedly still exists.

TROUBLE, RATINGS, IN TURN 3

This is what you'd expect if the Jerry Springer Show moved to the Speed Channel.

Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison battling on the last lap of the Daytona 500, banging doors and rumbling down the backstretch. That was good enough for the first 500 shown live and wire-to-wire on CBS. But it got better when the two wrecked, allowing King Richard Petty to cruise around for yet another Daytona win.

Perfect.

But it got better when Bobby Allison, Donnie's more combative brother, pulled around to the wreck scene inside Turn 3 and joined the argument. Cale, a former football player, had to shake off a potential leg tackle by Bobby while keeping an eye on Donnie.

As far as fights go, it was nearly as pitiful as one of those gangly NBA dust-ups. But in the pre-Springer era of 1979, people didn't see this type of stuff in their living rooms (well, maybe during a drunken Christmas Eve family gathering, but not on their televisions).

The Daytona 500 became an annual CBS staple.

LIGHTS, ACTION

As much as they hate to admit it, NASCAR suits owe a lot of their riches to Humpy Wheeler, the Charlotte-based mover and shaker who not only thought lighting a major speedway would be neat, but possible. His lighting of the Charlotte Motor Speedway turned The Winston into a cult favorite right alongside the night race at Bristol.

With the exception of the deadline-ravaged saps in the pressbox, everyone agrees that night racin' is the way to go. It's cooler, flashier and hey, that eighth Budweiser goes down easier when you're not sitting in 90-degree heat, right Hoss?

Over the past decade or so, many of the sport's best memories involve after-dark events (settle down, I'm talking between the walls). These great moments played no small role in NASCAR's ability to drain mucho dinero from Fox and NBC in their blockbuster TV deal two years ago.

Between The Winston and Coke 600 at Charlotte, all those wild Bristol affairs, consistently great races at Richmond and most recently Junior Earnhardt's Pepsi 400 win at Daytona, you wonder why the new network buddies don't try going prime time more often.

 

AND HERE WE ARE

And now, after all that, here we are -- billion-dollar TV contract, new speedways that cost hundreds of millions, blue-chip companies of every ilk itching to put their brand on something NASCAR-related.

More than 54 years after that shaggy group met atop the Streamline, NASCAR has its own brand on everything from trading cards to clothes. After years of fighting the smirks and sneers from those who likened the game to a cross between rasslin' and a beer-chuggin' contest, NASCAR is now mainstream. Like it or not, for better (and much of it's better) or worse (and some of it's worse).

Big Bill's vision and wish -- or at least some wild form of it -- has come true. Millions of new fans have been drawn to it along the way, perhaps due to the noise and color and occasional side-by-side, last-lap duel. Perhaps due to the obvious: The one time you don't watch, Ricky Rudd body slams Kevin Harvick en route to a win at Richmond, or Jeff Gordon begins channeling Ty Cobb and rear-ends Robby Gordon during a caution lap at New Hampshire.

All the modern rules and marketing schemes have shooed away a fan or two through the years. But judging from the numbers, damn few.

Thankfully, there are still a few dinosaurs wandering the garages who can sit you down and tell you what it was like in the days before luxury suites, cooler policies and tiled restrooms.

 DECADES of RACING

 Bill France Sr. was born in Washington, D.C. and lived there until his early 20s.  His father was a teller at Park Savings Bank in Washington, and his son might have followed in his footsteps with the exception that he had a fascination with the automobile and how it performed.  As a teenager, Bill Sr. would often skip school and take the family car to a nearby track and run laps until he had enough time to get the car, a Model-T Ford, back home before his father got home.  He held several hands-on jobs until he eventually owned his own service station.  He made a name for himself and built a customer base by getting up early in the wintry mornings and going out to crank the cars for white collar bureaucrats.

      In 1934 the Frances loaded up their car and headed for the south with a total of $25.  Where they were headed has never been clearly established but some say Tampa and others say Miami Beach.  Two days later they arrived in Daytona Beach.  Rumors say that they were broke and had to settle there while some say his wife had a sister in nearby New Smyrna Beach and still others say that their car broke down and they had no choice but to settle in and stay there.  However years later Bill Jr. stated that his mother did not have a sister living in New Smyrna Beach and that a broken down car would never stop his father from getting where he wanted because he was an experienced mechanic.

     The hard packed sand between Daytona Beach and its northern neighbor Ormond Beach was the site of the world-record automobile speed trials.  They started in 1902 and picked up speed right up to the '30s.  By then the speeds were approaching 300 miles per hour along the firm and smooth inviting sand. In the spring of 1935 Sir Malcolm Campbell was taking his Bluebird rocket car to Daytona Beach in hopes of running at 300 miles per hour for yet another land-speed-record.  Along with this and the weather and the smaller hospitable and more affordable area maybe this is the reason behind the Frances staying in Daytona Beach.

     Campbell never did get his record of 300 mph at Daytona, instead his best he could do was 276.82mph and on March 7, 1935 Campbell announced that he was moving the speed trials to Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.  It was the shifting winds and changing tides that made Campbell realize that he would not reach his goal of 300mph if he kept working out of Daytona Beach.  Campbell did beat the 300mph speed at Bonneville in late 1935.

     Daytona Beach area officials were determined to bring in speed-related events after Campbell left and this was how Bill France Sr. got his start in race promotions in late 1935.  City officials asked championship dirt track racer and local resident Sig Haugdahl to organize and promote an automobile race along a 3.2 mile course which included Highway A1A southbound from Daytona Beach and the same beach that had been used for the land speed record runs.  The 78-lap, 250 mile event for street-legal family sedans was sanctioned but the American Automobile Association for cars built in 1935 and 1936.  Daytona Beach posted a $5,000.00 purse, with $1,700.00 for the winner.  The biggest problem was that people arrived there earlier than the ticket-takers and established their spots on the beach.  The turns at each end very virtually impassable, leading to stuck and stalled cars which created scoring disputes and technical protests.  Then the race was called after 75 laps with Milt Marion declared the winner.  France finished fifth behind Marion, Shaw, Elmore, and Sam Purvis.  Ben Shaw and Tommy Elmore both protested the race but their appeals were squashed.  That was the first and last race the City of Daytona Beach ever promoted.  Well how would you feel if your City lost $22,000.00 from one race promotion?

     Haugdahl and France had become very good friends and were not about to give up.  Together they talked the Daytona Beach Elks Club into helping promote a race over Labor Day weekend of 1937.  Despite a paltry $100.00 purse and improved management, promotion, and track conditions the Elks lost money too.  They also like the city lost their interest in motor sports promotion.  With that Haugdahl decided that he too had enough and he bowed out of the motor sport promoting as well.  This left France all to himself to try and get the area interested since he could still see a future for stock car racing, however he was a struggling filling-station operator and didn't have enough cash to cover a purse, advertise and promote the race plus pay the city to set up the course.  

     France was finally able to convince local restaurateur Charlie Reese, rich and well known, to post a $1,000.00 purse and let France recruit drivers and spread the word.  Danny Murphy beat France in the 150-miler that generated just enough profit to convince the co-promoter to do it again.  They managed another successful stock car promotion on Labor Day weekend of 1938.  France beat Lloyd Moody and Pig Ridings in that race and then organized and promoted three more races in March, July, and September of 1939.  They did it again in March , July 4, and September of 1940  France fared well in those three races of 1940 finishing fourth in March, first in July, and sixth in September.  France was able to promote two races in March, one each in July and August of 1941 prior to the war breaking out.  The war brought a stop to motor sport racing and France went to work for the Daytona Boat Works while his wife handled the family filling station.

     Shortly after the war ended and things started returning to normal Bill France left the boat works.  France was obsessed with the idea that a single, firmly governed sanctioning body was necessary if stock car was to be a success.  He was well aware, as a driver and promoter, that the minor-league sanctioning bodies reeked of inconsistency.  France wanted an organization that would sanction and promote races, bring uniformity to race procedures plus technical rules.  He wanted an association that would oversee a membership benefit and insurance fund, and one that would promise to pay postseason awards, and crown a single national champion using a clearly defined points system.

     At that time there were several organizations who claimed to sanction national championship races.  One was the American Automobile Association (AAA), but they were more concerned with open-wheel, open-cockpit, champ car racing.  The A.A.A eventually became known as the USAC/CART league (Indy-car racing).  The other groups were the United Stock Car Racing Association, National Auto Racing league, and American Stock Car Racing Association.  The Georgia based National Stock Car Racing Association was only interested with-in the state and so they didn't crown a national champion.  The Daytona Beach Racing Association only promoted within the city so they made no claim to a national champion either.  France was so devoted to creating a racing association that would adhere to the rules mentioned above.  With that in 1947 he retired from racing so he could concentrate all his time and attention to organize that body.

     The first meeting of the National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing was held on December 12, 1947 at the Streamline Inn Motel in Daytona Beach, Florida. The organization named Bill France Sr. as its first president.  William Henry Getty France, aka, Big Bill France, gathered together a group of racing promoters, drivers, and mechanics with the dream of establishing an organization to set a standard set of rules and regulations to help promote stock car racing.

     Incorporated on February 21, 1948, the organization hired Erwin "Cannonball" Baker to be the first Commissioner of Racing.  The new organization sanctioned its first race on  the Daytona Beach road/beach course in February of 1948, several days before it was legally incorporated. More than 14,000 fans watched that first event, a 150-miler that Red Byron won ahead of Teague, Raymond Parks, Buddy Shuman, and Wayne Pritchett.  

     France's original plan was for NASCAR to oversee three separate and distinct classes of cars: Strictly Stock, Modified, and Roadsters.  Perhaps surprisingly, the Modified and Roadster classes were seen as more attractive to fans than Strictly Stock.  As things turned out, though, the audience NASCAR attracted wanted nothing to do with Roadsters, a  "Yankee" series more popular in the Midwest and Northeast.  It didn't take long for France to recognize that he didn't need the Roadster.

     After the war was over the big automakers had to switch production from Tanks and Jeeps back to their makes of cars.  This got France to thinking that the fans would want to purchase cars when they see them winning at the races and he knew that productions were going to be slow for a while.  He decided that NASCAR would run pre '40s Fords and Chevrolets plus a handful of new Buick's were allowed.  The 1948 schedule covered 52 dirt-track races for modified's and Red Byron was the national champion that year. 

     In February of 1949 France staged a 20 mile exhibition race near Miami for his Strictly Stock division.  Fearing he would lose out to a promoter in North Carolina, France decided to stage a Strictly Stock points race.  This race took place in June and was scheduled as a 200-lap, 150 mile race around a 3/4-mile dirt track in Charlotte, North Carolina.  It carried a purse of $5,000. for 33 street-legal family sedans that had been built since 1946.  Pole sitter Bob Flock led the first five laps in a 46 Hudson, Bill Blair led laps 6 thru 150 in a 1949 Lincoln, and Glen Dunnaway led the remaining laps in a 1947 Ford.  After the race Dunnaway's car was inspected and failed because he had altered the rear springs.  He was disqualified and moved to the back of the field and stripped him of the win and money.  This moved Roper to the first place spot followed by Fonty Flock in second, Byron in third, Sam Rice in fourth, and Tim Flock finished out the top five.  Hubert Westmoreland owner of Dunnaway's car sued the new sanctioning body for $10,000. however a North Carolina Judge ruled that the officials had the right to make and enforce their rules without outside interference and dismissed the suit.

     That mid-summer race attracted 13,000 plus fans, far more than was expected.  NASCAR promoted seven more Strictly Stock races that year: two each in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, one each in Florida, New York, and Virginia.  Byron won the Strictly Stock class that year in what was to become the Grand Nationals and Winston Cup series.  Lee Petty finished second in points followed by Bob Flock, Curtis Turner, and Jack Smith.  Fifty drivers raced in at least one race each that year and between 16 and 45 drivers showed up for each race.

     France wondered what was missing from his Strictly Stock division.  He had to come up with a blockbuster event to draw more attention to his Strictly Stock cars.  The USAC champ car circuit had the Indy 500, and NASCAR Modified and Sportsman division had their annual beach/road races in February at Daytona Beach.  In 1950 Harold Brasington built a 1.25 mile, high-banked, egg shaped speedway just west of his hometown of Darlington.  He stunned the racing world by paving it and saying that he wanted to someday host a 500-mile stock car race.  Brasington himself a retired racer had known France from their old racing days at Daytona and other dirt tracks throughout the Southeast and Midwest.  He was aware that France's new organization wanted to expand their image and he figured a 500-mile race would be the answer.

     In the fall of 1949 Brasington bought a 70 acre farm from Sherman Ramsey and he began carving a superspeedway out of what had been a cotton and peanut field.  Instead of developing his track into a true oval, he was forced to create an egg-shaped facility with one end tighter, more steeply-banked and narrower than the other end.  You see he promised Ramsey when he purchased the land that the track wouldn't disturb the minnow pond on the property's western fringe.  So that meant that Barrington could make the eastern end as wide, sweeping, and flat as he wanted but the western end had to be just the opposite because of the minnow pond.

     It took almost a year to build and pave the new track.  In the summer of 1950 as Sam Nunis spoke of promoting a 500-mile NASCAR race at Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta, Barrington and France were making the final arrangements to run a 500-miler at Darlington on Labor-day.  The inaugural Southern 500 carried a stock-car record purse of $25,000. and was co-sanctioned by NASCAR and the rival Central States Racing Association.  Over 80 cars showed up and it took two weeks to get them all qualified.  The race started with a 75 car field aligned in 25 rows and three abreast.

     After filling all 9,000 seats fans were directed to the infield where a sea of over 6,000 people watched the race.  It took Johnny Mantz more than six hours to cover the full 500 miles.  He drove a 1950 Plymouth owned by France, Westmoreland, and a couple more guys.  Fireball Roberts finished second, Red Byron was third, and Bill Rexford was fourth.  The Southern 500 was NASCAR's only paved track event in 1950.  There were only four paved events in 1951 and they were two at Dayton, Ohio and one each at Darlington, and Thompson, Connecticut.  Paved tracks didn't begin to gain acceptance until the late '50s.  Darlington and the half-miler at Dayton each had two races in 1952.  In 1953 Darlington and the new 1-mile asphalt track at Raleigh, North Carolina each had a Grand National race.  In 1954 Darlington, Raleigh, and the paved road course at Linden, New Jersey Airport had a race each.  In 1955 Martinsville, Virginia had one race, Darlington one race, and Raleigh had two races.

     NASCAR's future began to come in focus in 1956.  NASCAR sanctioned 11 paved-track races among 56 events.  They had 14 out of 53 venues in 1957, and 24 out of 51 venues in 1958.  Not only were they racing on oval tracks France also scheduled road course races at Watkins Glen, New York, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and Bridgehampton, New York.  Suddenly, almost overnight, it seemed NASCAR racing was becoming a national series rather than a regional series, Bill France's dream was heading toward the future.

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