Stuff You Should Know (the How Stuff Works podcast) is the best part of my morning commute. Hosted by the highly likable Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant, this show has equipped me with a near-endless supply of water cooler talk equal parts dazzling and disturbing. I could tell you why toothpaste makes orange juice taste bad, the best place in your body to take a bullet, what to do with a dead body–and other astonishing facts!–you know, if I wanted to.
One recent episode, however, was a real standout. It caused me to take a second look at a “sport” I had casually dismissed my whole life as–to put it nicely–mind-bogglingly unappealing: NASCAR.
Disclaimer: for a lot of people–certainly our readers in the Ozarks (they number in the thousands), and even some of my fellow yanks–this could very well be old news.
The podcast is called How Moonshine Works and it takes a look at corn liquor (aka bathtub gin, white lightning, and my personal favorite, panther’s breath) and its role in the creation of a car culture that would eventually become America’s #1 spectator sport.
Here’s a quick summery: “moonshiners” made the alcohol, and “bootleggers,” the folks who smuggled and sold it, would race cars loaded with moonshine through the night. These hillbilly savants, to outrun the local police, had to figure out ways to boost the horsepower of their vehicles. They did – and many of these updates were influential in the design of the modern stock car.
According to Appalachian History, a very cool blog, some accounts say that all early race drivers were involved in bootlegging. They used their moonshine profits to pay for the fastest, most expensive, machines. When Prohibition was lifted in 1933, these bootleggers suddenly found themselves with time on their hands, so they decided to race their cars for pride and money. These races, most closely associated with “the bootleg capital of America,” the Wilkes County region of North Carolina, were hugely popular. The first NASCAR track, the North Wilkesboro Speedway, opened in 1947.
Wow, those are some astonishing facts! Does this mean I’m getting the image of late NASCAR legend Dale “Ironhead” Earnhardt tattooed to my upper back? Probably not (yet anyhow). But a bad ass minitruckmullet could be in the works. Developing…