09 November 2009

Dynasties: Moonshiners and NASCAR

By Lorelie Brown

So how did we get from these guys:

To this one?

And really, how am I going to manage to stretch this into a dynasty post? Aw, come on, think of the money in NASCAR. That's power with a capital P, right?

Moonshiners are those people who make alcohol in illegal stills. They get their name because their work is often done by the light of the moon.

They didn't start out as lawbreakers. Originally, they were farmers who converted their excess crops to booze. It was easier to transport than in grain form, and could often be used as a form of currency in the barter system.

But when the newly-formed government of the United States needed a way to pay for their war bills, they taxed whiskey producers in 1791--and they taxed the small time producers at a significantly higher rate than large producers. Considering that many of them made whiskey precisely because they were low on cash, the farmers weren't at all stoked about it. Hence the Whiskey Rebellion began, and had to be put down by President George Washington himself.

Though the tax that started the Whiskey Rebellion was repealed in 1801, others soon followed. And mountain men and others kept brewing their own white lightning in rural areas, the best to stay out of sight of the revenuers.

When the United State's ban on alcohol began in 1920, moonshiners were in a prime position. All they had to do was step up production, and they'd make oodles of cash. One problem--how to get their product from the rural production areas to the cities, where it sold for the most money?

The answer? Fast cars, naturally, the better to outrun Prohibition agents. Moonshine runners took their normal cars and made the engines bigger and badder, at the same time they tried to lighten the rest of the car and make more room for the booze.

And we all know how men are, right? My--ahem--engine is bigger than your engine. It wasn't enough to race law enforcement. They started racing each other. The wide, hard packed beach at Daytona made a great track, down A1A highway a couple miles, out onto the beach and back again.

It wouldn't be until 1948 that NASCAR was formally founded, but it has roots solidly embedded in moonshining, which didn't end with the repeal of Prohibition either. There were still those pesky IRS Agents to elude.

Junior Johnson is often considered one of the best NASCAR drivers ever, with a total of 53 races won as a driver (and 132 as an owner). Where'd he get his skills? Running moonshine on back-mountain roads for his family! In fact, 1955 was his first NASCAR season, but in 1956 he was convicted of moonshining after he was busted at his father's still. (They never did catch him driving!)

Nowadays NASCAR is huge business, raking in billions of dollars a year. Racing fans like to claim it's the biggest sport in the US, but I can't find the stats to back that up. One thing's for sure: it's popular enough for Harlequin to have an entire line of NASCAR oriented books. If you ever get a chance to see a live race, give it a shot. There's a good chance the speed might bite you, same as it did the moonshiners.

Now, let me leave you with this little gem:

Fun, ain't it?