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If you’ve ever seen stock cars tearing around a track, you’ve probably noticed those cars don’t look like the ones your parents and grandparents drive. Think how weird it would be if your folks entered the family mini-van in the Daytona 500. Would you believe that’s the way stock car racing started? Racing didn’t always feature brightly painted cars built for super-speedways. In the early days, the cars on the track were the same cars found in the owners’ driveways.

By the 1920s, car racing was everywhere. People drove their family cars to racetracks across the country. Most of the tracks weren’t paved. Some were set up on beaches. The cars raced at a whopping 50 to 60 miles per hour. The races were exciting, but they were also dangerous. Cars didn’t have seatbelts or airbags. Serious injuries were common, and sometimes drivers were killed.

In 1947, a man named Bill France from Daytona Beach, Florida, realized that stock car racing needed somebody to organize the races and set rules. He gathered a group of racers and racing fans, and, together, that group formed the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing, or NASCAR. The new organization chose the best tracks, set safety rules, and even offered insurance to drivers. It also set the rules for deciding the national stock car championship.

The first NASCAR race was run on the beach at Daytona on February 26, 1948. More than 14,000 fans watched a racer from Atlanta, Georgia, named Red Byron fly across the finish line ahead of dozens of other cars.

NASCAR soon exploded in popularity up and down the East Coast. Popular races started in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia. Races regularly drew audiences of ten or twenty-thousand people, and race winners won five- to ten thousand dollars in prize money.

By 1960, NASCAR had left the dirt tracks for new paved tracks, called speedways. Giant tracks opened in Michigan, Delaware, and Alabama, as well as a new track in Daytona. More and more fans attended every race, and the drivers won more and more money.

Other changes affected NASCAR over the years. In the 1970s, companies started paying race teams to advertise their products on the cars. Also, the cars themselves changed. People stopped racing cars off the street and started building their own, special cars. And the cars got faster. Stock cars now can go almost 200 miles per hour.

Today, millions of people go to NASCAR events, and millions more watch the races on television. NASCAR is as popular as any other sport, including football, basketball, and baseball.

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