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Throughout the 53-year history of NASCAR, its race cars have been transformed from road-going, lumbering true "stock" cars into the sleek, technologically advanced machines that we see today on ultra-modern speedways. In tracing the evolution of the cars that we know today as the Winston Cup Series, it's necessary to go back to the beginnings of NASCAR and its "Strictly Stock Division."

When NASCAR was formed in 1948, there was a definite shortage of new cars in the post-war era. The feeling was that race fans wouldn't stand for new cars being beat up on a race track while they were driving a rattletrap pre-war automobile, so "Modified" cars were the early staple of NASCAR racing.

However, in 1949, NASCAR president Bill France Sr. re-visited the idea of racing the cars that people actually drove on the street -- late model family sedans. Since no other racing organization had seized the idea, France figured it might take root and create added interest.

The success of the modern Winston Cup Series proves he was correct. From the racers' perspective, putting a race car together was not a high-dollar deal. If a brand-new Buick sold for about $4,000, due to the lack of modification that could be done to it, the car could be raced for very little more of an investment.

In some instances, rental cars were actually used as race cars by point-chasing drivers who had no locked-in "ride" for an event. Cars were typically either driven to the track or "flat-towed" behind pick-ups and family sedans.

Other than tweaking and tuning of the engine, nothing could be done to these early Strictly Stock cars. The window glass front, back and sides was intact. Ropes and aircraft harnesses were used as seat belts. Roll bars -- which were mandated in 1952 -- were neither required nor often installed.

One thing the strictly stock designation encouraged was a great diversity of manufacturers on the track. The first official Strictly Stock Division race had nine makes come to the line, including Buick, Cadillac, Chrysler, Ford, Hudson, Kaiser, Lincoln, Mercury and Oldsmobile.

Some of the biggest problems were tire; wheel and suspension failures brought on by stresses that were atypical of normal road use. These concerns brought about novel solutions such as one detailed by two-time Grand National (forerunner of Winston Cup) champion Tim Flock, who described a trap door in the floorboard of his race car that he could open with a chain to check right front tire wear.

"When the white cord was showing, we had about one or two laps left before the tire would blow," said Flock of the 'early-warning system.'

Due to the rough-surfaced dirt tracks that were predominant in the early days of the sport, the only modification that was allowed was a reinforcing steel plate on the right front wheel to prevent lug nuts from pulling through the rims on conventional wheels.

Otherwise, racing stock cars in the early days of the sport was very much a seat of the pants endeavor. But it was one that spawned innumerable legends of drivers who created them, literally, with their own hands, feet and indomitable wills and courage.

Early Stock Car