Most people don’t realize that the history of NASCAR is the history of bootlegging and blockade-running during the era of alcohol prohibition in the US, between 1920 and 1933. The outlaw origins of the sport started with drivers in Appalachia, including Virginia. These bootleggers would modify their cars for speed and handling in order to account for the increased weight of their illicit moonshine, and to give them an edge outrunning the police.
When prohibition was repealed in 1933, moonshine runners continued to develop their machines and by the 1940s they were racing their cars semi-professionally. 70 years later, RVA Mag went behind the scenes at Richmond Raceway during Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400, to see what happens when 40 cars running at 800 horsepower race in close quarters at over 100 miles per hour for around three hours.
Today, NASCAR runs 36 races a year, two of which are at Richmond Raceway, a three-quarter mile track that runs its races at night. What most people don’t get to see is the sheer expanse of people, parts, and pageantry that goes into running one of these races: the five pit crew members for each vehicle, who can change four tires and refuel the car in 13 seconds; the crew chief and race engineers; the fighter jet fly-overs; the Marine Corps band; and of course, Governor Northam.
And with the average age of current drivers hanging somewhere between 20 and 33, the sport has an energy and accessibility that is befitting of its origins, which makes the experience all-encompassing. The sheer volume of 40 cars that run at a decibel level almost 900 times above a person’s daily average for noise in-take, the percolating smell of fuel, the concrete track on pit-row that is sticky with burnt rubber from tires that are changed up to 12 times per race, and the athleticism of the crews who keep the cars running for all 400 laps.
While the entry point for NASCAR might seem intimidating for first-time race-goers, the experience is unlike any other sport. And unlike other forms of motor sports, NASCAR is unique in that there is a certain level of egalitarianism to the way the teams are structured. What this means, in real terms, is that unlike Formula-1, the NASCAR team with the most money is not always likely to win.
For instance, NASCAR regulates just how big the engine can be, limiting the size to 358 cubic inches, restricting the amount of horsepower an engine can produce. This ultimately makes the racing experience more about driver competency, rather than dollars spent on high tech racing gear. Because of these rules, the race leaders of the change frequently – sometimes with multiple race leaders on a single lap.
Regardless of what your impressions might be, unless you’ve been to a NASCAR race, they’re probably wrong. Richmond Raceway is one of the best tracks on the circuit, and any sport where you can both bring in your own beer and booze, and have the constant potential for death defying race-cars is a result. Some of RVA Mag’s best behind the scenes photo from the Saturday race can be found below:
Photos by Branden Wilson and Landon Shroder