PIKE: NASCAR’s North Carolina Connection

James Pike James Pike Blog, NASCAR, Staff Columns 0 Comments

Auto racing has a long history in the state of North Carolina, most notably at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (NASCAR photo)

“Why on earth are you completely enamored with watching people drive in a circle for four hours every Sunday?”

That’s often the question I get asked whenever I mention my status as a NASCAR reporter to any normal person.

For much of the country, NASCAR is a small segment of life, and just one of the many pieces that comprises it. It isn’t central to their day-to-day lives.

But as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to Charlotte Motor Speedway for their annual early October race, the Bank of America 500 (1 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN), I think it’s worth retelling the tale of why NASCAR matters so much to us native North Carolinians.

For our state, the relationship with NASCAR is quite different than most others.

Our relationship with the sport begins with its history, which is deeper and richer here than anywhere else. It is in North Carolina where the roots of NASCAR can best be traced to their beginning.

That beginning comes in the Piedmont region of the state, during Prohibition.

With a constitutional ban on the production of alcoholic products in place, citizens of the Piedmont took it upon themselves to distill their own liquor in homemade stills. These stills were located in the countryside, away from the police stations in the city, and the distillation took place at night to draw as little attention to the operation as possible – hence the term “moonshine”.

Distillers would keep some of what they produced, but the majority of their product was sold off for profit to the speakeasies that dotted the landscape in the 1920s. To make their deliveries, “‘shine runners” would buy the standard saloons from the local Ford and Chevrolet dealerships, then take them back home and modify them for the purpose of delivering alcohol as quickly as possible – and to evade the police.

The most common change was to remove the seats in the back row (to save weight), but some shine runners changed out engine parts to increase horsepower, and others stiffened the suspension to increase handling, among other things.

Over time, the shine runners gained a massive amount of experience behind the wheel, and became as accomplished in evading the police on the country roads as they were in distilling the liquor. Their network was not large, but it was close, and it didn’t take long for drivers to compare their cars.

Likewise, it wasn’t long before one crucial question was asked: “what if my car, with my modifications, is faster than your car, with your modifications?”

Shine runners of the Piedmont were some of the first in the United States to ask this question, and races between them evolved naturally, when they weren’t busy delivering liquor. Initially, these races took place on paved state roads and the winding dirt roads outside of the cities.

But, as the popularity of racing increased, the dirt oval became the standard place to race.

Continued on the next page…

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