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In the first decade of the 1900s, Daytona Beach became known as the place to set world land speed records. The beach became a mecca for racing enthusiasts. Fifteen records were set at the beach between 1905 and 1935, when the Bonneville Salt Flats became the premiere place to host land speed record attempts. In 1936 the course began hosting car racing events. Drivers raced a 1.5 to 2 mile stretch of beach as one straightaway, and beachfront highway A1A as the other.

Other early race drivers were involved in bootlegging. The runners would modify their cars in order to create a faster, more maneuverable vehicle to evade the police. The next logical step for the owners of these cars was to race them. These races were popular entertainment in the rural South, 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 which were lightened and reinforced.

William France Sr.

Mechanic William France Sr. moved to Daytona Beach from Washington, D.C. in 1935 to escape the Great Depression. He was familiar with the history of the area from the land speed record attempts. France entered the 1936 Daytona event, finishing fifth. He took over running the course in 1938. He promoted a few races before World War II.

France had the notion that people would enjoy watching unmodified, "stock" cars race. Drivers were frequently victimized by unscrupulous promoters who would leave events with all the money before drivers were paid. In 1947, he decided this racing would not grow without a formal sanctioning organization, standardized rules, a regular schedule and an organized championship. On December 14, 1947 France began talks with other influential racers and promoters at the Ebony Bar at the Streamline Hotel at Daytona Beach, Florida that ended with the formation of NASCAR on February 21, 1948.
NASCAR was founded by France February 21, 1948 with the help several other drivers of that time, with a Championship Points System written on a barroom napkin. The premiere track on the circuit for the early seasons was the Daytona Beach Road Course. The sanctioning body hosted their first event at the Daytona beach on February 15, 1948. Red Byron beat Marshall Teague in the Modified division race. NASCAR had several divisions in its early years.

The first NASCAR "Strictly Stock" race ever was held at the Charlotte Speedway (not the Charlotte Motor Speedway) on June 19, 1949.

One of the tracks used in the inaugural season is still on today's Cup circuit: Martinsville Speedway. Another old track which is still in use is Darlington Raceway, which opened in 1950. (The oldest track on today's NEXTEL Cup circuit is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway which dates back to 1909; however, the first Brickyard 400 did not take place until 1994.)

Initially the cars were known as the Strictly Stock Division and raced with virtually no modifications on the factory models. This division was renamed "Grand National" after the first season (in 1950). However, over a period of about a dozen years, modifications for both safety and performance were allowed, and by the mid-1960s the vehicles were purpose-built race cars with a stock-appearing body.

Most races were on half-mile to 1-mile (800 to 1600 m) oval tracks. However, the first "superspeedway" was built in Darlington, South Carolina, in 1950. This track, at 1.38 miles (2.22 km), was wider, faster and higher-banked than the racers had seen. Darlington was the premiere event of the series until 1959. Daytona International Speedway, a 2.5-mile (4 km) high-banked track, opened in 1959, and became the icon of the sport. The track was built on a swamp, so France took a huge risk in building the track.

Daytona International Speedway