Alcohol consumption has been part of the American culture for decades; however, in the early 1800s drinking saloons were established across the United States and the threat of alcoholism, family violence and political corruption was ever existent. The good people present at the establishment of the anti-saloon league wanted nothing more than to rid their nation of alcohol and its evil effects. Little did they know that they were also priming the country for the events that led to the creation of a uniquely American racing sport.
American’s incorporated excessive drinking into their daily habits. Many started with a pick-me-up in the morning and ended it with a night cap before bed. They would drink whiskey, wine, beer, or rum with each meal, and every interval in between. Alcohol was integrated into cultural celebrations, private social events, political venues, military settings, and some workers even found leisure drinking while on the job. Locals would find themselves spending all hours at the saloon. Alcoholism was having a serious impact on communities and families. Men were losing their jobs due to their consistent drinking habits. Woman and children were in physical danger from the drunken offenders. Alcohol was a disease and people of the community were beginning to take notice.
Prohibition organizations began forming throughout the United States. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union consisted of religious women concerned about the effects alcohol has on families and society. Religious activists and supporters of the Temperance Movement came together and began lobbying for the prevention in manufacture, sale, or transport of beer, wine and spirits in the United States. In 1893 the Anti-Saloon League was founded and revived the prohibition movement, expanding rapidly, the league became a powerful political force among the state legislature. In December 1913, 1000 men from the Anti-Saloon League and 1000 women of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union banned together and marched for a constitutional amendment to prohibit the sale of intoxicants in the United States. Three years later, on January 16, 1919, the 18th Prohibition Amendment passed. It wasn’t illegal to drink alcohol during the Prohibition, only forbade its manufacture, sale, and transportation of intoxicating liquors”not their consumption. By law, any wine, beer, or spirits Americans had stashed away in January 1920 were theirs to keep and enjoy in the privacy of their homes, and that they did. Once the people began to run out of alcohol, gang warfare and organized crime flourished in America.
It wasn’t long before drinkers began to experience the withdrawal of their sinful lifestyle and sought alternative means to acquire their liquid vice, therefore bootlegging (the illegal manufacture and sale of alcohol) and speakeasies (illegal bars) became very popular. Bootleggers began the black market trade of making, importing and selling alcohol during this time to meet the demand of the people and incorporate a personally large profit. In order to transport the supply, illegal moonshine runners chose a standard stock car, which they customized with a powerful engine, better handling with heavy duty suspension, and increased cargo capacity. Bootleggers enjoyed using their mechanical knowledge and skilled driving techniques on back country roads to elude law enforcement. When the runners weren’t smuggling, they held informal races with other runners to earn bragging rights.
In 1929, large-scale bootlegger and infamous mafia leader, Al Capone, led the establishment of organized crime, capitalizing on the illegal alcohol industry, and sought to consolidate control by eliminating his rivals in the illegal trades of bootlegging, gambling and prostitution. This included assassinations of competitors, as well as bombing restaurants that refused to do business with him. Lawlessness and violence consumed the streets of Chicago in 1920 to 1930 as Capone’s conflicts with other rival gangs led to the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre, which seven members and associates of Chicago’s North Side Gang were murdered at Capone’s order.
Once it was understood that the 18th Amendment could not be enforced and failed to have the intended effect of eliminating crime and other social problems, Congress was forced to ratify the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition on December 5, 1933. With souped-up cars, and no work, runners were left kicking their heels. In 1938, Lakewood Speedway became the first to hold a race, allowing known bootleggers to participate. Due to dishonest promoters and inconsistent rules, a mechanic and racing participant, Bill France Sr., held a meeting with other drivers, car owners and mechanics to establish rules and regulations for the races, hence the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing was founded. NASCAR’s first official race was held two months later, February 15, 1948 and is one of the most popular family-friendly sports in America today.
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