NASCAR Evolution: Survival of the Fastest

In stock car racing, nothing ever stands still. Indeed, the Car of Tomorrow is coming up fast in the rearview mirror. Here's a high-speed look at how the great American race car--and American racing itself--has progressed over the past 60 years
February 19, 2007

1954 JUST SEVENyears after Bill France Sr.--that's Big Bill--founded the National Associationof Stock Car Auto Racing in the smoke-filled Ebony Bar of Daytona Beach'sStreamline Hotel, the new sanctioning body has brought together the independentracing tracks and traditions of the Southeast into a burgeoning circuit.

>> LEEPETTY wins seven times in '54 to take the first of his three Grand Nationalchampionships. Victory number one comes at Daytona in this Chrysler Club CoupeWindsor.

>> WITH A331-cubic-inch hemi engine, the number 42 car produces more than 235horsepower. The car is also outfitted with a Dodge truck transmission.

1967 This is thegolden age, when the King and a horde of challengers to his throne do battleweek after week before passionate crowds on speedways large and smallthroughout the South. With the auto manufacturers increasing their investmentand sponsors taking interest, big money is starting to drive the sport.

>> AT THEWHEEL of this Plymouth Belvedere/GTX, Richard Petty continues the familytradition, winning an astounding 27 of his 48 NASCAR races in 1967--including10 in a row. He would retire in '92 with a record 200 wins.

>> THECARS are largely "stock" only in appearance now; in fact, Petty's '67Plymouth is actually a reskinned version (in Petty Blue of course) of the '66,powered by a 426-cubic-inch hemi that produces 375 horsepower.

2006 No longer aregional pastime, NASCAR is riding high nationwide. With more than 13 millionfans filling 22 tracks in 19 states, the circuit is one of America's mostprofitable pro sports leagues: Multiyear TV contracts exceed $500 million, andlicensed products bring in $2.1 billion.

>> JIMMIEJOHNSON finally fulfills his enormous promise. After finishing in the top fiveof the Cup standings four years in a row, he lays claim to the '06 Nextel Cupwith five wins and 24 top 10 finishes in his Chevy Monte Carlo.

>> THOUGHTHREE manufacturers--Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford--make six eligible models forNASCAR, all the cars look strikingly similar. Johnson's racer is powered by an850-horsepower, 358-cubic-inch engine.

2007 It's stillstock car racing, but Big Bill might not recognize the landscape--or themachines. Committed to growth in the increasingly competitive sportsmarketplace, NASCAR looks to cultivate new venues and fans, in the U.S. andabroad, while welcoming foreign manufacturers and drivers.

>>SEEKING TO curb costs, increase safety and promote more competitive racing,NASCAR's research and development department unveils the Car of Tomorrow. Allteams are required to field cars conforming to the new specs at 16 races in'07, starting at Bristol on March 25.

>> THENEW DESIGN features a taller, wider roll cage that provides more room andprotection in the cockpit; a smaller, better protected fuel tank; and a rearwing that, coupled with a "splitter" under the front bumper, offersadjustable aerodynamics that should make for closer racing.

WHAT A RIDE
SURE, THERE HAVE BEEN DOMINANT DRIVERS AND LANDMARK RACES, ALL DULY NOTED HERE,BUT NASCAR HAS A LOT MORE PER SONALITY THAN THAT. FROM MONKEY BUSINESS TOINFIELD SLUGFESTS TO HOLLYWOOD EMBARRASSMENTS, THE SPORT HAS RACED ITS WAY INTOAMERICAN CULTURE

2.15.48
On a beach and road course in Daytona, Red Byron (below), driving a Ford, winsNASCAR's first race.

6.19.49
Glenn Dunnaway finishes first in the opening race of NASCAR's inauguralseries--then called Strictly Stock--at the Charlotte Fairgrounds Speedway.After the event NASCAR inspectors find that the springs on his car wereillegally modified and disqualify him. Runner-up Jim Roper is declared thewinner.

5.16.53
Tim Flock wins at Hickory Speedway in Newton, N.C., with a rhesus monkey namedJocko Flocko (above) riding shotgun.

5.30.53
At Raleigh Speedway, a rock flies through the window of Flock's car and hitsJocko, who goes berserk, forcing Flock to make an unscheduled pit stop for"monkey problems." Flock recovers to finish third, but the monkeyexperiment ends.

6.13.54
Al Keller wins a 100-mile road race in Linden, N.J., driving a Jaguar, thefirst victory by a foreign car in NASCAR history.

2.23.58
Paul Goldsmith wins the final race at Daytona's Beach and Road Course.

7.12.58
Richard Petty makes his NASCAR debut, placing sixth in a 100-mile convertiblerace in Columbia, S.C.

2.22.59
The first Daytona 500 is run in front of more than 41,000 fans at the new2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway. The race ends in a photo finish, andNASCAR takes 61 hours before finally ruling that Lee Petty had nosed out JohnnyBeauchamp.

1.31.60
NASCAR is televised nationally for the first time when CBS Sports Spectacularbroadcasts the Grand National Pole Position races from Daytona.

2.28.60
Richard Petty (left) wins at Charlotte, the first of his record 200 NASCARvictories.

12.1.63
Wendell Scott (above) becomes the only African-American to win a Cup race, atJacksonville.

8.18.66
In response to sponsor Holly Farms' request that he present a "moreprofessional appearance," Curtis Turner races in a three-piece suit and tieat Columbia, S.C., and places third.

6.2.68
David Pearson takes the checkered flag in Macon, Ga., just weeks after federalagents raided Middle Georgia Raceway and found an intricate cave-and-tunnelsystem that led to a fully operational still for brewing moonshine, under theinfield.

1.10.72
After 25 years in charge, Bill France Sr., the founder of NASCAR, steps down aspresident, making way for his son, Bill Jr.

2.15.76
After a thrilling duel and last-lap crash with Petty, Pearson wins the Daytona500 by rolling his car across the finish line at 10 mph.

2.20.77
Janet Guthrie (left) becomes the first woman to qualify for the Daytona 500;she goes on to place 12th.

9.13.78
With her husband busy moderating the Camp David summit, First Lady RosalynnCarter (right) hosts a NASCAR party at the White House. The guest list includesPearson, Petty, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison and Benny Parsons.

2.18.79
Petty rallies from far back on the final lap to win the Daytona 500, avoiding acrash involving Yarborough and Donnie Allison, who had been running in thelead. As Petty takes the checkered flag, Yarborough gets out of his car andconfronts Allison, then uses his helmet to hit Allison's brother Bobby, who hadalso pulled over. The melee that ensues (above) will come to be known simply asthe Fight.

7.16.82
NASCAR goes Hollywood: Strike one. In his first movie role, country singerKenny Rogers (right) stars as driver Brewster Baker in the movie Six Pack. Inthe film Brewster's flagging career is turned around by six car-crazy, orphanedsiblings who help him outwit criminals and cops before he wins the bigrace.

7.1.83
NASCAR goes Hollywood: Strike two. Stroker Ace premieres, starring BurtReynolds (right) as a driver whose car is sponsored by fried-chicken magnateClyde Torkle, played by Ned Beatty. Torkle forces Stroker to paint the sloganFASTEST CHICKEN IN THE WEST! on the side of his car. Critic Roger Ebert notes,"This provides most of the dramatic conflict in the movie."

7.4.84
Petty wins for the 200th and final time, taking the checkered flag at Daytonain the Firecracker 400. His record has never been challenged.

9.1.85
With his victory in the Southern 500, Bill Elliott (below) clinches a $1million bonus from R.J. Reynolds for winning three of the big four Winston Cupraces.

4.30.87
On the same weekend that Elliott runs the fastest lap in NASCAR history(212.809 mph, during the Winston 500 at Talladega), Bobby Allison flips his carinto the grandstand catch fence. Several spectators are hurt, and the race isstopped for 21/2 hours.

5.17.87
On his way to a win in the All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, DaleEarnhardt makes his celebrated Pass in the Grass, skidding into the infield butkeeping control as he speeds past Elliott and back into the lead.

2.14.88
The Daytona 500 marks the debut of NASCAR-mandated carburetor-restrictorplates, meant to limit engine power at superspeedway events. The race is won byBobby Allison, whose horrific wreck at Talladega 10 months earlier had spurredofficials to act.

6.27.90
NASCAR goes Hollywood: Strike three. Days of Thunder, the movie that made TomCruise and Nicole Kidman (below) an item, fails to generate similar heat withcritics, who deride it as a rip-off of Top Gun--an earlier Cruise vehicle. Itdoesn't help that the hero's name is Cole Trickle.

11.15.92
Petty (above) retires, after 35 years in NASCAR.

8.6.94
Jeff Gordon (right) wins the inaugural NASCAR race at Indianapolis MotorSpeedway.

10.23.94
Earnhardt (right) takes the checkered flag at Rockingham--his fourth win of theseason--to cap his seventh Cup championship, equaling the record set byPetty.

2.15.98
On the day that NASCAR begins its 50th-anniversary season, Earnhardt wins hisfirst and only Daytona 500.

11.28.00
Bill France Jr. steps aside as NASCAR's president, giving way to Mike Helton,who is the first person from outside the France family to run NASCAR.

2.18.01
Earnhardt perishes in a crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500.

11.21.04
In the inaugural Chase for the Nextel Cup, Kurt Busch prevails in the tightestpoints battle in NASCAR history, beating runner-up Jimmie Johnson by eightpoints.

8.4.06
NASCAR goes Hollywood: Home run! With his over-the-top portrayal of "big,hairy American winning machine" Ricky Bobby, Will Ferrell (left) drivesTalladega Nights to box-office Victory Lane.

ILLUSTRATIONIllustration by Slim Films; CARS FROM LEFT: INTERNATIONAL MOTOR SPORTS HALL OF FAME (2); GREG NELSON, DAVID WALBERG, SIMON BRUTY, MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II/1DEUCE3 PHOTOGRAPHY; GEORGE TIEDEMANN/GT IMAGES; FOURTEEN PHOTOSTIMELINE FROM LEFT: DAYTONA RACING ARCHIVES; COURTESY OF FRANCES FLOCK; MOTORSPORTS IMAGES & ARCHIVES PHOTOGRAPHY (2); BETTMANN/CORBIS; WALLY MCNAMEE/CORBIS; RIC FIELD/AP; EVERETT COLLECTION (REYNOLDS); 20TH CENTURY FOX/EVERETT COLLECTION (ROGERS);GEORGE TIEDEMANN/GT IMAGES; PARAMOUNT/EVERETT COLLECTION (CRUISE; KIDMAN); GEORGE TIEDEMANN (GORDON); GEORGE TIEDEMANN/GT IMAGES (PETTY); ALAN MARLER/AP; SONY PICTURES/EVERETT COLLECTION
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)