MASCAR is a major multi-million dollar sport with growing appeal — and the only one of our major sports that grew directly out of criminal activity.
Necessity was the mother of invention. It started during the Prohibition era when "moonshiners," the guys who made their own whiskey, had a shipping, handling and delivery problem. To get their product from the still in the woods to the whoever would pay good money for their special concoction, they had to get past law enforcement officials who roamed the twisting backroads in the South with fast cars. The solution was to build faster cars. The ‘shine business depended on being able to consistently outrun the cops, which meant creating fast and durable engines and testing them in real-life chases.
Soon, the competition within a competition began among the suppliers about who really had the fastest car. They began racing each other under unsafe, and sometimes comical conditions, by today’s standards. Bill France thought there should be organization to this chaos of legal professional racing and NASCAR was born out of a meeting in a hotel room in Daytona, Fla.
This was stock car racing, meaning the vehicles were hybrids from common stock — cars readily available to anyone — and with heavy "soup" added.
A recent trip to Charlotte, N.C. offered the chance to visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame, one of America’s newest museums (it opened in mid-May). I marveled how far this sport has come from its low-tech, toolshed, improvisational days. It has truly traveled from backwoods to mainstream.
Confession time. I’m not that much into NASCAR. But I really enjoyed the museum, which encompasses 150,000 square feet situated in the heart of downtown Charlotte. Someone into NASCAR would think he is in heaven. If you happen to be in the area, it costs about $20 for the go-at-your-own-speed tour and it’s worth your time if you happen to be in the area. A true NASCAR devotee could spend most of the day in there.
The museum has three stories of interactive exhibits. One of the main ones is "Glory Road," in which visitors walk up one story on a circling, banked ramp modeled after the banked turn at Talledega. It’s also a walk through history as a person can examine signature cars through NASCAR’s history and also learn about the tracks on the modern circuit.
In a fascinating high-tech way, visitors are go inside the sport from gaskets to strategy. One can attempt to change a tire on a machine simulating what a pit crew has to go through. A person can also watch the 20 greatest finishes of all time, rev an engine dyno, ride in a racing simulator and create one’s on colors and personality on a computer card that allows one to interact with certain exhibits in a personal way.
Kids have their own separate room. And there a racing-oriented video games for kids of all ages. One area shows the complete mechanics of how a modern race car is built. Another details and illustrates the schedule a typical race team follows Monday through Sunday.
The most interesting exhibit to me was walking through a typical large trailer a racing team brings to the track and having a chance to examine all the various-sized compartments and what it is all the nooks and crannies. The vehicle is a shop in miniature — from small hand tools to spare engines.
There is a true-to-life moonshine still built by Junior Johnson, a convicted moonshiner who was pardoned and then became one of the sport’s early heroes. Before the exhibit opened, Johnson was even summoned to show the crew how to put the still together with a pipe wrench and a couple of well-worn Channel Locks.
A family entered the museum just ahead of me and I heard the Dad whisper to his pre-teen son that his younger sister probably wouldn’t like it.
"Male-dominated the sport," he said.
But from watching how that girl and some of her contemporaries plowed headlong into the video games: The days of that may be numbered.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)