Fact Friday 427 - Is NASCAR’s true ‘home’ in Charlotte or in Daytona?

Fact Friday 427 - Is NASCAR’s true ‘home’ in Charlotte or in Daytona?

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Fans fill the infield for pre-race entertainment before the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/David Graham) DAVID GRAHAM AP


On Feb. 15, 1948, following a famous meeting at the Streamline Hotel rooftop bar with founder Bill France Sr., NASCAR staged its first official race — the inaugural stock car race on Daytona Beach. But those were modified cars, and races among those cars evolved into what is now known as NASCAR’s Whelen Modified Tour, previously known as the Winston Modified Tour and the Featherlite Modified Series. NASCAR’s “Strictly Stock Series,” which is now known as the Cup Series and synonymous with the highest level of motorsports, completed its first season in 1949. Charlotte Speedway — which closed in 1956 — hosted the first race in that series on June 19, 1949. The 0.75-mile track was located near the Charlotte Airport, off Wilkinson Boulevard on Little Rock Road, and had to close amid the construction of Interstate 85.


Charlotte Speedway was a race track near the airport off Wilkinson Boulevard that hosted the first NASCAR Cup Series race in 1949. E.C. Kropp Co., Milwaukee UNC Libraries

Red Byron won the 1948 beach race at Daytona — and is lauded as NASCAR’s first race winner and champion — while he didn’t become the sport’s first premier series champion for another year. “Daytona ushered in the speedway era of the sport,” Kyle Petty, son of NASCAR legend Richard Petty, told reporters this week. “Then you had Atlanta, you had Charlotte, you had, over the next eight or 10 years, speedways that were built — not short tracks, speedways.”

Daytona and Charlotte have played instrumental roles in the sport’s history. But which one is “home?”


The first beach race was in 1948. Eleven years later, the superspeedway opened, and since 1959, it’s been difficult to match the magnitude of Daytona. The inaugural race at Daytona International Speedway was held on Feb. 22, 1959. After years of watching stock cars race down the beach and up the highway, the first Daytona 500 — though it wasn’t officially called that until 1961 — drew more than 41,000 fans. It was NASCAR’s second 500-mile race, following the Southern 500 at Darlington, and instantly became an event that is often compared to the Super Bowl. “It’s strange how it’s all so close together,” said Chris Buescher, who reached the Round of 8 of last year’s Cup Series playoffs. “It’s definitely got its two core groups — very much NASCAR headquarters stuff down here, and the teams’ side is a lot more centrally located in North Carolina.”


Many of NASCAR’s teams are headquartered in the Charlotte area, and have been for some time. That hasn’t always been the case, but it’s been the practical choice. Furniture Row Racing, a Cup Series team from 2005-18, was based in Denver. The No. 78 team made it work despite the distance — Martin Truex Jr. won his 2017 title while the team was in Colorado. But even when its best driver was the reigning champion of NASCAR’s highest series, running a team that far away from Charlotte wasn’t sustainable. “We laugh a little bit, we joke because nobody really knows why Charlotte is the area that NASCAR converged on,” said Justin Allgaier, who added he did countless book reports in school about the start of auto racing. “It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, other than Charlotte Motor Speedway, which wasn’t built until years after Daytona International was built. “You look at baseball or football, any other stick-and-ball sport, there’s no real hot bed of where those players come from or where those teams are based out of. I think that’s what makes racing so unique.” As exciting as the Daytona 500 is, Charlotte plays a crucial role as a home for NASCAR. Young drivers looking to break into the sport often move to the area to network with teams. With Charlotte Motor Speedway existing since 1960, the city has had its own share of crown jewel races. And, the sport’s Hall of Fame is there. “I’m not sure what employee doesn’t live in Charlotte or within 20 or 30 minutes in North Carolina,” Carson Hocevar said. “And if anybody wants to win, they want to win in front of their family and at Charlotte. There’s a hometown feel when we race at Charlotte.”


North Wilkesboro Speedway opened on May 18, 1947, before both the inaugural Daytona Beach race and the first Cup Series race at Charlotte Speedway — and was a product of people outrunning law enforcement to illegally transport liquor. 

Wilkes County, once known as the “Moonshine Capital of the World,” was a leading producer of illegal homemade liquor during the prohibition era. Many of the sport’s first stars cut their teeth illegally hauling moonshine, and there’s a whiskey still immortalized in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Theoretically, this small town — one that has seen a resurgence in recent years with NASCAR’s return to race there — could be in the conversation, as well. Despite these North Carolina roots — and the current hub of activity surrounding Charlotte — the conversation at the Streamline Hotel, which emerged from a different kind of racing in Florida, remains the consensus pick. But why Daytona in the first place? France, NASCAR’s founder, was moving from Washington, D.C., to Miami during the 1930s. But on the way, according to legend, France’s car broke down, and he and his family lingered in Daytona Beach. France opened a gas station and garage near the beach and became interested in the “speed trials” that took place in that area. After about a decade of spectating these races on the hard-packed sand from Ormond-by-the-Sea to Daytona Beach, France became a promoter and even raced briefly from the mid-1930s until World War II.

About three dozen racers met with France on Dec. 14, 1947 at the Streamline, as he outlined his vision for stock car auto racing. What became known as NASCAR held an epic race on the beach in Daytona the following February, launching the pro racing circuit. “I think you’re gonna go with Daytona,” Buescher said. “North Carolina is home now, but you’re gonna go with Daytona being the birthplace. There’s no way to take away from that beach. No way to take away from those meetings in that hotel. You’re gonna have to go with Daytona.”


For more Fact Fridays related to the history of racing and NASCAR in the region, click here



"Is NASCAR's true 'home' in Charlotte or in Daytona? It depends on how you look at it," by Shane Connuck, The Charlotte Observer, February 16, 2024. 

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