With increased attention on NASCAR comes greater focus on sponsors, and that means less to
As a sport, NASCAR was officially born in 1949. Before then, there had been stock car races, but never with a major sanctioning body with a cohesive rule book. The first Strictly Stock (the grandfather of today's Nextel Cup) race was held in Charlotte, North Carolina, on June 19. Driver Glenn Dunnaway led laps 151 through 200 in the 200-lap event and lapped the field three times. But hours after driving under the checkered flag, NASCAR's chief inspector, Al Crisler, declared Dunnaway's car illegal, and Jim Roper went into the history books as the first-ever winner of a NASCAR Strictly Stock event.
Dunnaway's crime? He had modified the rear springs on his Ford-a common trick among bootleggers at the time-to provide better traction. NASCAR would have none of it, and stripped Dunnaway of his victory. So, in an inauspicious race at a track that no longer exists, NASCAR racing as we know it was born, and cheating was a part of it.
Fast forward to February 2006 and the Daytona International Speedway. NASCAR has become the second most watched sport in the United States, behind professional football. It boasts a television package worth billions of dollars, and corporate sponsors are contributing upward of $15 million a year to be on the hood of a car. It's quite a different world than the one NASCAR's pioneering drivers knew back in the sport's infancy.
Increased scrutiny allows fewer places for today's drivers to blend into the scene. Nigel
Of course, some things are still the same. Before this year's Daytona 500, NASCAR's tech officials discovered an irregularity in Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet owned by Hendrick Motorsports. The rear track bar was connected not only to the suspension, as it should be, but also to the bottom of the rear window. When the track bar was raised, so was the rear window. The effect was to deflect air away from the rear spoiler. At Daytona, where wind resistance is the ultimate evil, the configuration was probably worth real speed.
There were no illegal parts on the car, but the manner in which they were assembled altered the original design for the parts. So NASCAR named the innovation illegal, invoking the all-encompassing article 12-4-A in the rule book, otherwise known as "actions detrimental to stock car racing." In other words, cheating.
The New NASCAR
So what's different between then and now? The answer is "nothing" and "a whole lot," both at the same time. Auto racing is different from stick-and-ball sports in that each team is responsible for building its own vehicle. As long as it meets the letter of the rules, any innovation in how that car is constructed in order to make it faster, safer, and more reliable is not only allowed, it's expected. In football, for example, the ball and the dimensions of the field haven't changed in decades. In racing, the track may stay the same, but the cars, the tires, and the support equipment change and evolve not yearly, but weekly.