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Why Did Charlotte Become the Home of NASCAR?

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What’s Happening?

This weekend, NASCAR heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway, which is considered a “Home game” for many because most of the race teams are based in the greater Charlotte area. What made Charlotte, North Carolina, NASCAR’s home?

  • Charlotte, North Carolina, has been a major part of NASCAR since its inception. Its importance to the sport is primarily due to its geography.
  • Despite Charlotte’s nickname as the “Home of NASCAR,” NASCAR is not headquartered in the area. NASCAR was not founded in that area either.
  • Charlotte is always a bucket list place for race fans. Plenty of NASCAR tourist attractions, including Charlotte Motor Speedway, the race shops, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame, are in the area.

The Origins of Charlotte in the Sport

NASCAR was founded in December 1947 at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida. To this day, NASCAR is headquartered in Daytona Beach, but throughout history, NASCAR has always been most prominent throughout North Carolina.

According to thethirdturn.com, the 1948 NASCAR Modified Tour, the first-ever NASCAR-sanctioned season, staged 30 of 52 (57.7%) races in North Carolina. Four more races were held in the neighboring state of Virginia.

When the “Strictly Stock” Series, which would eventually become the Cup Series, was founded in 1949, the season started on a 3/4 mile track in Charlotte, North Carolina. That season, three of the eight races were held in North Carolina, plus one race in Martinsville, Virginia, which is almost on the state line. That first race at Charlotte is famous for the guy who finished first, Glenn Dunaway, not walking away with the trophy after failing inspection.

What made NASCAR so prominent throughout North Carolina at this very early age? One simple word: moonshine.

According to the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, North Carolina had the necessary resources to make moonshine, including water, grain, and a functioning rail system. Many early NASCAR drivers were originally moonshine runners throughout North Carolina. These individuals modified their passenger cars to outrun the cops, and, eventually, they took these cars to the local track to race each other.

Perhaps the most famous example is Junior Johnson, “The Last American Hero.” Johnson was from Wilkes County, North Carolina, and he served 6 months in prison for moonshining in the 1950s before going on to have a Hall of Fame NASCAR career as a driver and an owner. For a deeper look at the history of moonshine in North Carolina, check out the Moonshine and Motorsports Podcast, which highlights the Moonshine and Motorsports Trail.

Even then, Charlotte was the largest city in North Carolina, so it only made sense for NASCAR to have some presence there. It’s also noteworthy that IndyCar, then known as Champ Car and sanctioned by the AAA, had the Midwest covered like a blanket, so, NASCAR stayed where the stock car interest was.

Charlotte Motor Speedway

As the 1950s wore on, NASCAR maintained a presence in North Carolina, with many iconic race tracks like Hickory, Bowman Gray Stadium, and North Wilkesboro finding their footing. Tracks in neighboring states also became staples as time passed, including Martinsville and Richmond in Virginia and Darlington in South Carolina.

In 1960, Bruton Smith and superstar driver Curtis Turner decided to build a palace of speed in Charlotte, North Carolina’s biggest city. The old Charlotte Speedway was a 3/4-mile dirt track that simply wouldn’t cut it. The new track was a palace of speed.

The pair designed a 1.5-mile quad-oval, considered a “Superspeedway” at the time, built in nearby Concord. Charlotte, alongside Atlanta the same year, became the third and fourth “Superspeedways” in NASCAR to have genuine staying power, alongside Daytona and Darlington.

However, Charlotte had one big ace up its sleeve. The first race at Charlotte was a 600-mile race held in June 1960. This race length was unheard of for oval track racing at the time, and it was the genesis of NASCAR’s 3rd “Crown Jewel” race, the World 600 (later renamed the Coca-Cola 600).

NASCAR already had a presence in Charlotte, but, this track ensured that NASCAR had staying power in the area. As time went on, Charlotte became even more important to the sport.

The Growth of Charlotte in NASCAR

Charlotte Motor Speedway has hosted at least two Cup Series races every year: the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend and one race in the fall. In 2018, the track constructed the Roval to host the fall race on the property.

While NASCAR entering into the modern era in 1972 meant the end of the road for many short tracks across the Carolinas, NASCAR’s presence in the area remained huge. North Wilkesboro, Rockingham, and Charlotte each hosted two races per year, giving North Carolina 6 NASCAR race dates per season. Tracks in neighboring states like Bristol (Tennessee), Nashville (Tennessee), Richmond (Virginia), Martinsville (Virginia), Atlanta (Georgia), and Darlington (South Carolina) hosted 2 races each.

Throughout the 1970s into the 1990s, NASCAR staged between 16 and 18 races per season in this region, which made up a little more than half the schedule. Charlotte is smack dab in the center of this region, and it became the perfect place for race teams to set up shop. This made it the undisputed “Home of NASCAR”.

Charlotte Motor Speedway also gained more prominence thanks to the area’s overall growth, multiple race dates, and its owner, Bruton Smith, one of the architects of NASCAR’s expansion.

Smith had owned Charlotte under the banner of Speedway Motorsports Inc. (SMI) throughout its history, but in the 1990s and early 2000s, he turned his business into an empire. He bought Atlanta, Bristol, New Hampshire, and Sonoma and later built Texas, Las Vegas, and Kentucky.

The obvious downside was buying up North Wilkesboro and Rockingham, taking those track’s race dates away, and giving them to other tracks he owned. However, it shows how big of a role those involved in the Charlotte area have played in the NASCAR we see today.

In 2010, NASCAR constructed the “NASCAR Hall of Fame” in Uptown Charlotte, where the sport has been centered around since its inception.

In short, why is Charlotte the “Home of NASCAR”? NASCAR primarily raced in and around North Carolina, and Charlotte was the biggest city and the most centrally located city in that area. It’s served as NASCAR’s Capital City in more ways than one.

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North Carolina Moonshine and Motorsports Trail

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