The first gasoline fueled automobile was built in the late 19th century by the Duryea brothers. It had a massive (for its day) 4 HP engine, but it was the dawn of a new industry. Before this effort there were several attempts at building steam powered vehicles. Some were more successful than others, the gasoline powered internal combustion engine using the four-cycle “Otto Principle” engine was much lighter and efficient.
Most steam powered cars were nothing more than locomotives in miniature. With the attendant problems of carrying enough fuel to burn and water to make steam. They were excessively heavy and unwieldly, weighing 3 or 4 times as much as a gas powered car.
Henry Ford was generally credited with making the automobile affordable for the average consumer. His idea for the assembly line modernized the auto industry as well as many others.
The first recorded auto race was held in 1896, and after that date cars became faster and more efficient. The slogan “Race on Sunday-Sell on Monday” became the catch phrase as manufacturers took what they learned on the racetrack and applied it to their production cars. By the early 1900′s auto racing was sweeping the country as the quest to build bigger and faster cars caught on everywhere.
Prohibition was a huge contributor to making cars faster as Moonshiners sought to outrun the revenuers. In order to get their goods to market, they had to build stronger engines and put them in stripped out bodies. So as to keep the weight down, so they could carry more White Lightning. Large cubic inch V8 engines such as the Cadillac and Oldsmobile were the power of choice for the gangsters and bootleggers of that era.
With the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, there were a lot of fast cars and good drivers with a lot of time on there hands. The formation of NASCAR in 1943 gave a lot of these men a place to strut there stuff in a legal way. Some of the best drivers/fastest cars of the early days of NASCAR, were said to be those of former bootleggers. The first Daytona 500 was run at the new Daytona International Speedway Feb.22, 1959 and is one of the premier racing events of the year to this day.
About this same time frame was when drag racing formed its roots. It seemed anywhere there were two cars and a stretch of road was perfect for an impromptu race. More formal racing events were being held on the dry lake beds of California. Soon after timed speed events were being held at the world famous “Bonneville Salt Flats.”
Californias’ Santa Ana is recognized as the first real dragstrip. With the formation of the NHRA National Hot Rod Association in 1953 organized drag racing was born. Other sanctioning bodies were formed later such as the AHRA (1956-1984) and IHRA are still running today. Automobile drag racing today encompasses a vast range of classes for all types of cars. From the stock bodied bracket racer that can’t break 100 mph in the quartermile to the Nitromethane belching monsters of Top Fuel and Funny Car that easily blow past 300 mph in the now shortened to 1000 foot distance, for those cars.
Throughout the history of auto racing theres never been a dull moment. There’s something for everyone and fun for all at the auto races. Whether you like your racers to go straight or to turn left in a circle, racing’s an All American pastime.