NASCAR has progressed significantly over the past four decades, evolving to become the mega-business it is today. It was an entirely different racing landscape, though, when Stock Car Racing hit the newsstands in 1966
Forty years ago, this magazine turned out its first edition, and there have been drastic changes in NASCAR during the ensuing decades. Significantly, the top NASCAR division didn't even have the same name back then, as it was still carrying the original Grand National name. In 1971 it became the familiar Winston Cup Series, Grand National Division, before acquiring its current Nextel Cup moniker in 2004. The name, Grand National Division, was dropped in the early '80s and applied to the NASCAR Busch Grand National Division.
The name difference is a small part of the changes in the sport. First of all, there were 50 points races in 1966, compared to 36 on the '06 schedule. Those 50 races were run on 31 different racetracks, and 11 were dirt. The presence of dirt tracks goes back to the formation of NASCAR in the late '40s, when all the tracks were dirt for a number of the early years.
Many of those tracks are only a fleeting memory today, with several no longer in existence. Would you believe that one of those dirt tracks was a North Carolina facility called Dog Track Speedway?
Today, if a contender were to miss a race, it would be disastrous in terms of championship contention. But for the '66 season, not a single driver drove all the races. In fact, David Pearson, the champion that year, competed in only 48 races. Pearson, driving a Dodge, was a dominant force with 15 wins placing him well ahead of the runner-up, independent driver James Hylton.
David Pearson earned his first...
David Pearson earned his first driving title the same year SCR was launched.
It was a time when there were a considerable number of brands competing, including Ford, Mercury, Plymouth, Dodge, Chevy, Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac. Compare that number with only one brand for each of the Big Three today. A look at each decade in those intervening years shows how the sport continued to mature.
The '60sPearson also won the NASCAR championship in 1968 and 1969, driving Fords for the famed Holman & Moody team.
The '60s were definitely the era of the big-block engines, with Ford teams using the dependable 427 mill, while the Chrysler machines employed the 426 Hemi engine, which was usually hooked to the 833 four-speed transmission. A number of Chevy teams used its version of a 427 engine. The final year of the decade saw the introduction of the Dodge Superbird with its elevated rear spoiler.
The engines of the time were capable of about 600 hp. Also, most of the cars of this era used screw-jack or torsion-bar adjustable suspensions.
The '70sWhat a decade this was, demonstrating blazing speeds and the initial attempt by NASCAR to slow down the cars. In 1970, Plymouth brought out its version of the winged warrior with its Superbird, which could hit speeds of over 200 mph on the superspeedways. The winged cars were soon outlawed by NASCAR, though.
Speed was also lassoed in the early '70s by the hated engine restrictor plates, which were directed toward the big-block engines. During the mid-'70s, the maximum engine size was reduced to 358 cubes, a limit that exists to this day. But even with the reduced displacement, engine technology had advanced to keep the power at impressive levels.
With success came loss, as Chrysler called it quits after failing to come up with a competitive model on the track and experiencing major financial problems due to the energy crisis. It would be over two decades before the company's return to NASCAR.
In 1972, American Motors joined the fray with Roger Penske at the helm. The team originally ran with Mark Donohue behind the wheel of a Matador, but other well-known drivers, such as Donnie Allison, Dave Marcis, and Bobby Allison, competed for Penske as well.
The '80sThis decade started off with smaller cars, as the wheelbase was reduced by 5 inches, shortening the cars to 100 inches. In addition, the Buick Regal body style, with its sloping front clip proving to be amazingly aerodynamically efficient, won a number of races in the early '80s.
In the Chevy camp, the Monte Carlo proved to be an efficient performer and is still in Nextel Cup in the 2000s. In 1985, the so-called Monte Carlo SS Aero Coupe featured a fastback rear window that cut smoothly through the air. Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip used the machine to great success. The Ford Thunderbird also stood tall during the decade, with Bill Elliott having great success.
The '90sThis decade saw the demise of two General Motors brands as Oldsmobile and Buick bid adios in 1992, leaving just Chevy and Pontiac. The Monte Carlo again proved to be strong with championships earned by Dale Earnhardt and a young Jeff Gordon.
The 2000sSeveral substantial developments took place early in the 21st century. It had been rumored for several years and finally happened in 2001 when Daimler-Chrysler announced it was returning to Cup racing with its Dodge brand for the '01 season. The effort was headed by Ray Evernham, Gordon's crewchief during the No. 24 team's heyday.
However, almost as quickly as one brand was added, another was dropped. General Motors announced that it would consolidate its resources exclusively on the Monte Carlo and not support the Pontiac Grand Prix in NASCAR. This was after Pontiacs had won 155 Cup races since 1950. The 2000s featured the Chevy Monte Carlo, Ford Taurus, and Dodge Intrepid. For the '06 season, Ford introduced its new Fusion model while Chevy unveiled an updated Monte Carlo SS.
It's been a great four decades. We wonder what it will look like in another 40 years.
David PearsonLegend David Pearson remembers the '66 NASCAR Grand National season like it was yesterday. "Things were really different back then," says Pearson, "and I think some of the things we did then should still be done today. For example, we drove a number of dirt races back in those days and I'd like to see them still do it today."
He explains that during that period the race cars started as street cars and were modified. "They retained their look, and didn't look all the same like they do today," Pearson says. "The cars were big and heavy and were pretty safe. I think the biggest improvement safety-wise to the cars is the fuel cell they use today.
"The engines were usually built by the teams, as were the cars." The engine displacement limit then was 427 ci.
The cars were hauled around on open trailers. "And you better believe that the drivers worked on the cars," says Pearson. "I did most of the welding for our team."
Pearson laughed when he was asked if he might have been born 30 years too early with the money Nextel Cup drivers are making today. "Yeah, but the guys that were driving before us said the same thing. They didn't make hardly anything."
The records show that for his '66 championship, the points fund paid Pearson the tidy sum of about $78,000. Compare that to the millions that Nextel Cup champions make today.
"But heck, I can't complain," says Pearson, who still lives in Spartanburg, South Carolina. "I made a good living. I really wouldn't change a thing about my career."-Bill Holder
The Busch SeriesSCR first covered NASCAR's triple-A series when it was populated by cars that were not much more than typical short-track cars. But 40 years of evolution in what we know today as the NASCAR Busch Series (NBS) covers the majority of its 56-year existence. The series changed its name from the NASCAR Sportsman Division to the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman Division in 1968. As the series changed, so did the equipment. In a nutshell, they went from being short-track cars to being much faster and safer on the big tracks to being virtual Cup cars. How the cars got there is more or less a function of how the series grew in popularity and how the schedule changed.
As NASCAR grew, it created openings for those aspiring to join the sport's top levels. The NBS offered teams and personnel the chance to reach the top with fewer races and smaller budgets. NASCAR also saw the opportunity to develop a farm system by drawing local racers into the organization. The first step was to allow them to use their own dirt and pavement cars at local NASCAR-sanctioned races on smaller tracks. Then, as the series moved into bigger markets and tracks, the cars went from home-built cars of various designs to cars with NASCAR flavor, mostly for safety on those bigger tracks.
The series ran on the biggest track, Daytona, for what many feel was a great series of races-the Permatex 300s. The cars used smaller bodies than their bigger brothers, and the chassis were different, too. They were more like a short-track car with a NASCAR rollcage that offered the most driver protection of the day. Suspension was still a variation of short track and big track, but it didn't take long before regular Sportsman teams learned a much stiffer chassis was needed to win at Daytona. Aero was still unheard of, but drafting was a factor in more than just driving style. The winning cars at Daytona had some Cup influence but still had a home-built flavor In The '70s.
In 1982, the division secured title sponsor Anheuser-Busch. The name was changed to the Budweiser Late Model Sportsman Series with the Busch brand taking over in 1984 to create what is now called the NASCAR Busch Series. Cars changed again with more big tracks on the schedule. As such, the rules were complete in their changeover to Cup standards, yet the cars retained an NBS identity. The bodies then were mostly the intermediate Chevy Nova and its clone, the Pontiac Ventura. One trick found to increase speeds involved the narrowing of the square headlight openings and the front fenders. Enterprising teams found for every inch they narrowed the front end, they gained 1 mph at Daytona. When the field started sporting small slits for headlight openings, NASCAR swooped down. One race had a number of cars with quickly widened front fenders sporting hastily added patches to make specs.
A very big equipment change also occurred in the '80s. With V-6 engines found in street cars, NASCAR went that way, too. Oddly, Buick engines in GM bodies ruled the era over Chevy and Ford motors. Buick even named its souped-up street Regal after the series: Grand National. The V-6 ran its course before going back to the V-8s. The cars then morphed into virtual clones of Cup cars with only a 5-inch shorter wheelbase, a smaller carburetor, and 100 less horsepower to differentiate themselves.
Today, there is one part of the car that attracts Cup teams to compete in the NBS-the tires. With most races booked together, extra track time with those tires equals an advantage for Cup racing. All the changes have made the NASCAR Busch Series the nation's No. 2 motorsports series. John Carollo