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Moonshine and NASCAR: a history of speed

Moonshine and racing … so go the tall tales of the beginnings of NASCAR. Mountain men taking souped-up cars to push moonshine past the  authorities.

Knox County sheriff’s deputies with a confiscated moonshine still circa 1922-23. Pictured are Ott Wagner, left, L.L. Robbins, Squire Tilman Greene Waggoner and John Wesley Bates. (Photo: News Sentinel Archive)

Daniel Pierce, a professor of history at the University of North Carolina-Asheville and author of a book on moonshine and one on NASCAR, had heard the tall tales of the connection between moonshine and NASCAR and discounted them. Then he did some research.

“I assumed that moonshine and NASCAR was really overblown, but the deeper I looked the more liquor I found,” Pierce said.

Buz McKim is the staff historian at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina. He said the sport’s tradition is laced with stories of moonshine drivers.

As NASCAR Hall of Fame Executive Director Winston Kelley has said, the prevalence of moonshine and the rise of NASCAR just happened to occur at the same time.

 “NASCAR did not beget moonshine. Neither did moonshine beget NASCAR,” McKim quotes him as saying.

That said, McKim doesn’t think the link is a coincidence — early bootleggers were developing race cars whether they meant to or not so they could outrun authorities.

 “These guys were incredibly competitive by nature, and a lot of the original (racing) competitors were moonshiners and they were kind of fearless,” he said.

It wasn’t unusual for local tracks to have drivers competing Saturday night in the same car they were bootlegging moonshine across state lines Friday night, he said.

“It was mainly at fairgrounds and places like that and they were promoted by regular promoters,” he said. “But a lot of the promoters, track owners, mechanics and (car) owners were part of the moonshine business as well.”