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This bootleg runner's son was in the passenger seat during the early days of NASCAR

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When you think of NASCAR, it's likely you think of massive crowds, cars speeding past at over 200 mph and the corporate logos splashed on just about everything.

But the origin of the stock car race goes back to the late 1920s and 30s during prohibition when drivers navigated red dirt tracks in souped up cars running illegal moonshine from state to state for distilleries.

Bill Blair Jr. is the son of Bill Blair, a legendary bootleg runner who also was a professional racer and was one of the original drivers who raced with Bill France, the founder of NASCAR.

"The first cars that he raced were liquor cars," Blair Jr. explained. "You haul liquor at night, and on the weekend, they'd have the race and you'd use your liquor car."

Bill Blair Jr. grew up working on race cars with his dad and knows the history of NASCAR like the back of his hand.
Bill Blair Jr. grew up working on race cars with his dad and knows the history of NASCAR like the back of his hand.

Daniel Pierce, an author and history professor at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, said the automobile was a major development for people in the moonshine business because it made it easier to transport their product. Bootleggers, he explained, quickly developed high-speed driving skills to evade law enforcement.

"They had a lot of practice in going fast and knew how to handle a car on the very edge," Pierce said.

"That's what auto racing is all about," he continued. "It's about being able to drive a car to the very limits and keep it right on the edge without wrecking." In fact, moonshiners developed a number of tricks, like the bootleg turn to evade law enforcement.

ITS Tactical Bootlegger's Turn Driving Demo

Why haul liquor?

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Many young men hauled liquor because it was a way to escape working in a mill or on a farm, according to Pierce.

Blair Sr. was raised on a dairy farm in Guilford County, North Carolina, and watched the High Point Speedway being built across the street. He began hauling liquor "just for the thrill of it," even before he started racing. In 1932, hauling moonshine even landed Blair Sr. in jail in Martinsville, Virginia, on Christmas Day.

Blair Jr. said his dad and a friend got caught that day when it started snowing heavily and authorities shot out the rear tire of his car.

"After getting them locked up, the magistrate comes and charges them with hauling non-tax paid whiskey, evading arrest, speeding, reckless driving and whatever else they could charge him with," Blair Jr. explained.

Like many moonshiners, bootlegging helped Blair Sr. pursue his true passion: stock car racing.

In 1947, the Tri-City Speedway opened in High Point, North Carolina. It was built, owned and operated by the Blair family.

"You hear the old cliché that moonshiners started stock car racing," Blair Jr. said. "In a way, they did. Some of them had the money to put into racing. And Tri-City Speedway, the money that my daddy had to build that track, was liquor money."

Pierce explained that although the moonshine business didn't exactly give rise to NASCAR or vice versa, bootleggers were certainly the foundation for the sport because they provided the talent, cars, venues and money for prizes.

The first NASCAR-sanctioned race was held on Daytona's beach-road course in 1948, according to NASCAR's official website. And it was just a few days after the first official race that France's brainchild, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), was incorporated.

France's success was partially because he had good relations with a lot of big-time bootleggers, according to Pierce.

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"If you look at the early days of stock car racing in the South, almost all the top drivers were people who were involved in the illegal liquor business," Pierce explained. "Even people who weren't, often when they became successful as race car drivers, they were recruited by the illegal liquor people to haul liquor because it paid much better than racing did in those days."

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