IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Ladies, buckle your seat belts for Nascar 101

In “The Girl's Guide to Nascar,” Liz Allison, wife of the late race car driver Davey Allison, breaks down the sport for female fans. Read an excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY

In “The Girl's Guide to Nascar,” media correspondent Liz Allison, wife of the late NASCAR driver Davey Allison, tackles the ins and outs of NASCAR — explaining the official point and flag systems, regulations on cars, and how drivers make it to the starting (and finish) line. She also offers helpful tips to female fans on traveling to and from race events and surviving an entire race weekend with kids, and shares recipes for throwing a great NASCAR viewing party. Here's an excerpt:

The Starting LineupThe popularity and growth of the sport speaks for itself. But make no mistake, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) has carefully charted and directed the course of the enormously successful stock car racing series from the very beginning. The NASCAR you see today seems to be very different from the NASCAR that started over fifty years ago, but it is not as different as one might think. What has remained “on track” through the years are the colorful personalities of the drivers, the fierce competition, and the steadfast fans.

Before NASCARWas there wheeled racing before NASCAR? You betcha ... but not what we know as racing in this day and age. Racing can be traced back as far as the horse-and-buggy days when young men (and women) with a need for speed rumbled across rock-filled dirt roads. Later generations raced cars on back roads and makeshift drag strips before the first racetrack was ever built. The first racetracks were simply dirt, making for great racing and dirt-filled noses and ears. The beauty of the racing of years past was the concept of “from the road to the track.” Basically, if you had four wheels, you could race. It was not uncommon to have your dentist and milkman racing each other on Saturday night at the local racetrack. It would be years before the word “professional” would come before “race car driver.” Until then, racing was a fun hobby for thrill seekers; certainly nothing like the big business it is today.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, completed in 1909, was technically the first non-dirt track to be built in the United States, even though it did not run stock cars at first. The track surface was built out of bricks instead of asphalt ... 3.2 million bricks, to be exact, hence the nickname the Brickyard.

Professional auto racing began with a jumbled array of small sanctioning bodies for stock car racing across the Southeast that organized races from the mid-1930s until the late 1940s. There was no governing body or anyone to basically police the events, setting the stage for several different problems for the drivers ... like being paid, for example. Before NASCAR, a race promoter might set up a race, raise the funds for the race purse, sell tickets, bring in the drivers, and then head out of town before the race was over — with the winnings, ticket monies, and all. Many racers were left with nothing but expenses and no paycheck to help pay the bills.

Undoubtedly, NASCAR racing would be in a different place if not for the vision of a banker turned race car driver from Washington, D.C., by the name of Bill France. Seeking his dreams, France had set out on a cross-country trip from Washington to Miami when a little car trouble sidetracked him for a few days in Daytona Beach, Florida. That unplanned stopover changed the course of his life and the course of racing.

France — The Founding Family NASCAR was founded in Daytona Beach, Florida, on December 14, 1947, by William H. G. France. He stood six and a half feet tall, earning himself the nickname “Big Bill.” Many thought his stature illuminated an intimidating nature, but the people who knew him best felt that his toughness was only for show; his soft side was saved for those who were closest to him. Bill’s vision far exceeded anything the world of racing had ever known. Being a driver himself, he understood the ins and outs of the sport. He wanted to take it to the big leagues, in hopes of one day making it mainstream. His interest in television and radio coverage was laughed off by many businessmen, who only saw it as a wild dream.

On December 14, 1947, Mr. France called a meeting at the Streamline Hotel in what is now the world center of racing, Daytona Beach. There he convinced business associates and investors to follow his dream. Just a few short months later on February 15, 1948, the France dream became a reality as NASCAR ran its first race on the beach at Daytona. The first-ever NASCAR event was won by the racing legend Red Byron. Only six days later NASCAR was incorporated. The world of racing would never be the same.

The first Strictly Stock race (what we know today as the Nextel Cup Series) was run at the Charlotte Fairgrounds Speedway in North Carolina on June 19, 1949. Soon afterward, racers started flocking in from around the country, making Charlotte another hub for racing. This remains the case today, as most teams are based out of the Charlotte area. Red Byron was crowned the very first NASCAR champion that October. His six starts and two wins in 1949 afforded him $5,800 in winnings.

Bill Sr. decided to change the name of NASCAR’s top series subtitle in 1950 from Strictly Stock to Grand National, and from 1950 to 1959 NASCAR continued its growth in popularity, finally catching the attention of executives at CBS Sports. January 31, 1960 marked the first live televised race coverage on any network, as the CBS Sports Spectacular broadcast a two-hour program devoted to the Daytona pole-qualifying events. ABC Sports followed the lead of CBS by including the July 16, 1960, Firecracker 250 in their Wide World of Sports programming.

History was made in 1971 when the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, the parent company of Winston cigarettes, announced its plans to become the first title sponsor of the growing Grand National Division of NASCAR racing. Cigarette advertising was undergoing major changes, as the marketing of tobacco products was banned from television, leaving an insane amount of unused advertising dollars lying on the table. The RJR Company initially went to legendary racer and car owner Junior Johnson to sponsor his race team. Junior, realizing very quickly that RJR’s financial support far exceeded anything he could use, steered the powerhouse tobacco company to NASCAR, whose elite series was renamed the Winston Cup Grand National Division. This would forge one of the longest-standing relationships in the history of the sport.

Fast Fact
What we now know as the Nextel Cup Series has had many names over the years. Even though the name of the series has changed, NASCAR has always been the sanctioning body. 1949-1950 Strictly Stock 1950-1971 Grand National 1971-1986 Winston Cup Grand National Division 1986-2003 Winston Cup Series 2004-present Nextel Cup Series* *Nextel and Sprint merged in 2005, which could result in a name change in the foreseeable future.

In 1972, at the age of sixty-three, Bill Sr. passed the torch to his son William C. France, more commonly known as Bill Jr. Bill Sr. had been molding his son for several years, waiting for the day he felt Bill Jr. was ready to take NASCAR into the next generation. Bill Jr. became the second president of NASCAR. By this time, NASCAR racing was making its way all over the southeastern states, from South Carolina to Virginia and just about every state in between, and Bill Jr. felt it necessary to trim the Winston Cup Grand National Division schedule from forty-eight to thirty-one races. His plan was to focus more attention on the growth of fewer tracks, and to put some distance between the tracks. This was the birth of the modern era of NASCAR.

The Fight As the laps were winding down in the 1979 Daytona 500, tempers were flaring up. On the last lap of the race Donnie Allison was leading, with Cale Yarborough on his back bumper. Cale dove down to make a pass while Donnie was attempting to hold him off, and as the two fought over Daytona real estate, they got together and wrecked in Turn 3. The King, Richard Petty, went on to capture one of his seven Daytona 500 titles. After the checkered flag waved, as Petty made his way to Victory Lane, Donnie Allison and Yarborough argued on the grass in Turn 3. Donnie’s brother, Bobby, also a 500 competitor, stopped his car and joined in what has become one of the most talked-about moments in NASCAR history ... known simply as The Fight.

CBS Sports made history on February 18, 1979, as the network gave flag-to-flag live coverage of the Daytona 500. The King — Richard Petty — won the coveted trophy after an infamous wreck between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison. This wild finish produced one of the most replayed events in the history of the sport.

The growth of the sport and its popularity kept the attention of the networks, who chose sporadic events to cover throughout the course of each race season. In 1989, NASCAR had earned enough credibility and respect that the networks granted coverage to every NASCAR Winston Cup event, broadcasting them on national or cable TV.

Bill France Sr. passed away in 1992, leaving the creation and growth of NASCAR as his legacy. By the time NASCAR’s fiftieth anniversary arrived in 1998, Bill France Jr. was ready to hand over day-to-day duties to Mike Helton, who was at that time the senior vice president and chief operating officer. History was made on November 28, 2000, when Bill Jr. officially named Helton the third president of NASCAR, making him the first (and only) person outside of the France family to lead the way.

As Helton had been groomed for many years to take the lead of NASCAR, so had Bill Jr.’s son, Brian Z. France. In October 2003, Brian became the chairman of the board and CEO of NASCAR, replacing his father.

Excerpted from “The Girl's Guide to Nascar(R),” by Liz Allison. Copyright © 2006 by Liz Allison. Excerpted by permission of . All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.