Runnin’ Moonshine: How Real Racing Began; The Birth of NASCAR

I am sure most of you know the old American Folk Tales and Legends of the moonshiners.

Those like the Balled of Thunder Road, the tale of Junior Johnson, and of course the tale of “Copperhead Road.” However, do you know the true story of the Moonshiners? Who they really were, why they made moonshine? Do you know the type of cars the Runners drove? What tricks did they really use to evade the cops and the revenuers? Let me tell you the true story about the moonshine runners, the mountain men who drove illegal Alcohol.

Sometimes running shine was just like Hollywood. There where car chases between the hopped up rods hauling the shine and the G-Men trying to stop them.

They would run from the law all throughout the backroads of the South. Other times however there weren’t any chases and shiners were a lot more clever and the tricks were more discrete and stealthy.

Back in the 1950′s there was an old saying in Appalachia ”Mine, Moonshine or Get On Down the Line.” Moonshiners weren’t just Entrepreneurs looking to get reach, actually few were doing it to get rich! For most moonshiners, it was a way of getting by in life, a way to provide for a family. Succeeding in the illegal liquor business meant there would be food on the table; getting caught meant you would have no way to provide for your family.

The Cars Used by the Shiners
The most important part of the Moonshine business was getting illegal liquor to the customers. To do this a runner had to use a car that wouldn’t attract too much attention to themselves. The car also had to be capable of carrying a large load while driving at high speeds to evade the revenuers.

Several different cars were used by the runners, the most common of these was the 1940 Ford Coupe. The reason for the 40 Ford being chosen because it was commonly seen on the road so it wouldn’t stand out. It was also an affordable car at the time that had a large trunk space to carry a large load.

The most important reason for using the 40 Ford was that most of them had a Ford Flathead V8 Engine which could be hopped up to make lots of power. Other cars that were used include old Ford Pick Up Trucks, 49 Oldsmobile Rocket 88s (due to the Rocket 88 motors high power), 50′s Ford Fairlanes, and Ford Sedans. Later cars include the 55 Chevy, 55 Dodge

Hopping Up the Cars
The cars the Moonshiners drove had to look as stock as possible so they wouldn’t attract attention while on a run. This meant that the car could have no pinstriping, no flame paint jobs, no loud mufflers, no chrome, or anything else that would stand out and make the car distinctive from other cars on the road.

Typically during delivery, a car would have to be able to carry 100 to 180 gallons worth of white lighting during every run. During most of the runs, loads would be carried inside of mason jars which would be loaded into the trunk of the car. Sometimes all of the seats would be removed besides one bucket seat for a driver so there would be more room for mason jars.

A few of the cars were “Tank Runners” which were cars that could carry a bigger load and could hide the white lighting in a hidden tank. The cars would have a large tank full of liquor that could be hidden under the floorboards or put in place of the rear seat and covered with upholstery to blend in. Sometimes the tanks were even hidden inside of the car’s gas tank!

In order to be able to carry these heavy loads while driving, the rear suspensions had to be stiffened. Extra leaf springs were added to the rear suspension, this would lift the car’s rear up in the air while it was empty and it would be ad normal height while it was full. This suspension not only allowed the cars to carry the heavy loads, but it allowed for fast driving while carrying the load.

A powerful mill was a driver’s best friend! If the revenuers spotted him, he had to rely on his car’s engine power to getaway. He made sure his engine was hopped up and ready to go in case that moment ever happened.

Typical mods made to a runner motor included tunnel ram intake manifolds to increase airflow, more than one 2 barrel carburetors, or even a 4 barrel carburetor added for more fuel, ported cylinder heads, and bigger headers on the exhaust.

Another exterior mod that was commonly used by the runners was, they would install a switch on the dashboard that allowed them to turn off their taillights but leave the headlights on, to help them get away from the G-Men chasing them. Some drivers had a similar mod, where they would install a switch that turns off the rear brake lights; this prevented the revenuers from seeing where the drivers braked on the turns.

The Chase
Most moonshiners wanted their runs to be easy and uneventful, which as we know didn’t always happen. They would try to avoid chases as much as they can by driving on the backroads as much as they can, avoiding checkpoints and roadblocks.

However, if a chase did occur the runners had several advantages over the Revenuers. Their biggest advantage was their cars; the revenuers were issued stock family sedans with little modifications by the government which could not keep up with the cars of the shiners.
police chase moonshiners.

The other advantage was the roads themselves, most of the runners drove the same roads daily and new the layouts and all of the turns. They knew how fast they could go around each turn, which way to go to evade the G-Men and which routes to take.

The revenuers new they couldn’t catch the runners in a chase so they soon changed their tactics. They started using radios in the cars to notify other agents to set up roadblocks within a minute’s notice. Soon more and more moonshiners got caught, the days of the runners started coming to an end.

The Birth of Stock Car Racing
Hauling illegal liquor eventually lead to the birth of the largest Motorsport in the United States. During the weekend’s moonshiners would argue about who had the fastest car in the area. The arguments would lead to guys wanting to prove that their car was the fastest so they would then head over to the fairgrounds and start racing each other in circles.

Soon crowds would come and check out the racing thus Stock Car Racing had been born! After church every Sunday in the Southern United States there would be Stock Car races and the races would grow bigger and bigger. NASCAR held its first Strictly Stock race on June 19, 1949, at the Charlotte Speedway in North Carolina. In 1950, the first NASCAR-based track, the Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, opened. Soon permit tracks that could seat 10,000 and had paved asphalt to race on.
early NASCAR in Daytona

By the mid 1960′s, NASCAR had grown from a weekend hobby of Moonshiners to an all-out Motorsport attracting new fans and racers from all over the country. Soon large high dollar sponsors from the Big Three in Detroit and other companies sponsored teams and allowed them to race full time. Many of the former moonshiners were now able to make a great living by racing NASCAR.

NASCAR fever had swept the South and has forever become an important part of Southern Culture. However drivers and fans alike will never forget the roots of the sport because they know somewhere deep in the hills of Tennessee sits a running still, with Manson Jars full of liquor waiting to be loaded into 1940, to make one last run. Be careful because where there is a Moonshiner hauling his load, there is a Government Agent waiting to catch him!

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