Going National while Staying Southern: Stock Car Racing in America, 1949 - 1979
Shackleford, Ben A.
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During the second half of the 20th century the Stock Car Racing enjoyed substantial growth and development. General enthusiasm for fast cars built within American culture by racers, hot rodders, and automaker advertising campaigns helped fuel rapid acceptance of production-based racing. Widespread popular fascination with automotive speed helped stock car racing withstand criticism of the violent nature of the sport leveled by public safety groups and politicians during the first decade of its organization. Indeed, the perceived rebelliousness of stock car racing helped drive stock car racing to develop a loyal fan base in the American South. For the National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing (NASCAR) control over the technology of competition and the conduct of race events brought respectability, scale, and profitability to this entertainment phenomenon between 1949 and 1979. The power to specify technology offered NASCAR leverage over the actions of racers who, despite their status as independent contractors, remained fiercely loyal competitors. Control over the technology of competition also helped maintain strictly stock perceptions of NASCAR racing that made corporate sponsorship attractive to automakers and held the interest of the general public. After initial forays across the nation, NASCAR chose advantageous concentration on the southeastern markets where racing spectacle found the most enthusiastic and devoted audience. This thesis is an account of the process of systematization that brought the grass-roots phenomenon of production-based to a region and an nation, and how NASCAR relied on a stock-appearing racecar as a device to simultaneously control participants, lure corporate promotional dollars, and attract fans.