Weird History How Moonshining Led Directly To NASCAR In Just A Few Easy Steps  

Noelle Talmon
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Many people may not realize this, but NASCAR and moonshine go hand in hand. How? Pretty directly - in fact, the early days of NASCAR were quite literally founded on hooch and trying to outrun the law. NASCAR-bootlegger history has its roots in the Prohibition era, when people tried to make extra cash by producing and transporting alcohol illegally. Future stock car racers resided primarily in Appalachia and modified their average-looking vehicles in order to evade police and get their moonshine safely to their destinations - and fast.

Daniel S. Pierce, author of Real NASCAR: White Lightning, Red Clay, and Big Bill France, didn't realize how heavily bootlegging influenced the founding of NASCAR. He had believed that the myth was overblown and was shocked to learn during his research that the origins of NASCAR were, in fact, deeply embedded in firewater. He noted, "Early car owners...were bootleggers. The thing that really surprised me was one of those things that was hiding in plain sight, that nobody talked about, was how many of the early promoters and track owners were people involved in bootlegging."

The Term Moonshining Originally Referred To Any Job That Was Performed At Night – But It Didn't Stay That Way For Long

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The word "moonshining" originated in England and, at first, it referred to any job or activity that was performed at night. During the period of time between 1920 and 1933 when the United States banned alcohol production and consumption - AKA Prohibition - people didn't stop making the products even though it was now illegal, they just adapted their methods of production and distribution accordingly. Brew masters secretly operated illegal whiskey stills at night with the goal of avoiding the attention of the authorities. These men became known as moonshiners: their wares were moonshine and those who distributed their illicit products became known as bootleggers. In the dark of the night, all they could do was hope that no one would notice the smoke billowing up from the stills.

Southerners Relied On Their Moonshine For Income

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As early as the 1700s, officials started taxing liquor. So, in order to earn some extra money on the side, southern farmers and immigrants began mass producing their own moonshine in secret – tax free. Moonshine became a huge income generator for people in Appalachia during the early 20th century, particularly in areas entrenched in poverty. And when the Prohibition laws were enacted, moonshiners simply increased their production quotas and fed the demand for illegal hooch.

Bootleggers And Rumrunners Were Essential To Getting The Product Out To Anxious Consumers

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The people who produced the illegal alcohol were called moonshiners, but those who actually smuggled and transported the hooch around town were known as bootleggers. The name dates back to colonial times when alcohol smugglers would conceal their drinks inside their large riding boots. Eventually, bootleggers upgraded their methods and began using cars to move their product instead. Rumrummers were essentially the same as bootleggers, except they moved their products by sea, usually hiding it below deck in the ship's cargo area.

To Avoid The Law, Bootleggers Souped-Up Their Cars

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In the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, bootleggers drove what appeared to be average cars - except they were filled to the brim with moonshine and had much more powerful engines than any passers-by would expect. These vehicles were anything but stock. Their engines were boosted so the bootleggers could outrun police and tax authorities. Often, the bootleggers eliminated the back seats entirely in order to fit more alcohol into their vehicles. And to prevent the jars of moonshine from shattering during high-seed transport on switchback turns and bumpy back roads, the cars were fitted with super-stiff suspensions. As a result, bootleggers were able to drive around with upward of 100 gallons of moonshine inside their cars at any given time without raising any suspicions.