In Australia every week there are calls for drivers who engage in illegal and dangerous behaviour to ‘take it off the streets’. Good idea too, especially if the vehicles being driven at crazy speeds on dimly-lit mountain backroads are carrying a load more flammable than the high-octane fuel in their tanks.
US stock car racing had its origins in the 1930s when drivers who might on other nights be transporting illegal ‘moonshine’ liquor, went racing.
These ‘good ole boys’ with their Fords, Dodges and Buicks would meet to show off their skills without needing a ‘revenuer’ on their tails.
The first events were run shortly after Prohibition of alcohol was lifted in 1933 and ‘runners’ began looking for other ways to realise their investments in highly-modified cars. Events were run at horse-racing venues or on tracks carved out of farmlands but most famously on the hard-packed sands of Florida’s Daytona Beach.
By 1947 when post-WW2 racing recommenced, a set of rules was needed and the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR as it is known today) was founded.
Among the requirements was a stipulation that at least 500 of any model being raced had to have been manufactured in the USA, thereby eliminating imports and ‘specials’. Rules, of course, exist only to test the creativity of engineers and the ensuing years saw plenty of cars designed with the express purpose of winning motor races.
You might think that eight-cylinder engines were essential for NASCAR success, but Hudson set out in 1948 to challenge that notion. The ‘stepdown’ Hornet used a 4.4-litre six-cylinder engine – later enlarged to 5.0-litres – with twin carburettors. However, its real advantage over the more powerful Cadillac and Oldsmobile V8s was a low centre of gravity that helped the Hudson corner at higher speeds than its rivals and win 66 of the 108 NASCAR events contested from 1952-54.
Chrysler entered the fray in 1955 with the first of the purpose-built NASCAR designs. The Hemi-engined 300 cost more to buy than a luxury New Yorker St Regis Hardtop and only 1725 were sold but that didn’t matter. With an official 224kW from its dual-carburettor engine, the 300 won 18 NASCAR events in its first competitive year, followed by success in the 1956 series as well.
Ford and General Motors were not happy to be left mid-pack and introduced fearsome engine/carburettor combinations of their own. GM’s weapon was the ‘Tripower’ big-block and from Ford came a legendary 427 cubic inch ‘side oiler’ fed by one massive downdraft carb but capable of generating 320kW in street trim. Race engines would deliver 440kW and more.
The 1960s were dominated by factory-backed teams and superstar drivers. Richard Petty’s father had been a NASCAR pioneer, but the younger Petty still ranks with the greatest ever. So did the likes of Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson, whose resume included arrests early in the 1950s for moonshine running.
As the 1970s dawned, legislation designed to limit the engine output and outright speed of production cars began to appear. NASCAR needed to adapt as well, with rule changes that outlawed aerodynamic aids and restricted the amount of power an engine could produce.
The last significant models to see a showroom floor before these changes came to be were Dodge’s Daytona and the Plymouth Superbird. Both featured huge rear wings for added stability and ‘aero’ nose-cones. With the 426 ‘Hemi’ engines the Mopar duo were able on longer tracks to exceed 300km/h.
Against strong competition from Ford and Mercury they dominated NASCAR events from their arrival in 1969, winning Drivers and Manufacturers’ titles until banned before the 1971 season.
The era of ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ was over and with it went the age of the ‘muscle-car’. Australia would very soon follow in US footsteps and ban public sale of cars built to promote their brands via events like the annual Bathurst 500 endurance race.
In Australia we rarely see any serious US competition cars which tend to be jealously guarded by enthusiasts in their homeland. Replicas or ‘tribute’ cars can sometimes be found here, however they aren’t as expensive or desirable as an original.
When insuring a car that could be hard to replace if stolen or involved in a serious crash, you need to consult a specialist company. Enthusiast Insurance is one that understands what owners of specialised cars need and can provide cover 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Before even heading out to look for your own piece of motor-sporting history pop across to www.enthusiast.com.au and spend a couple of minutes locking in a quote.
Then if you do find a car, on a weekend or other time when most of insurance providers aren’t answering their phones, you can slot in the details of your new purchase, arrange to Pay By The Month and drive home worry-free.