Join us here at PRP for a walk through the history of how automobile racing became so popular.

In 1886 German engineer Karl Benz patented the Benz Motorwagen. It wasn’t until the 20th century that cars became widely available across the world though. In America, one of the first accessible cars to the masses was the 1908 Model T by Ford.

Cars were adopted very quickly in America and replaced animal drawn carriages, which is why in most places in America the infrastructure is suited towards car-sized vehicles. It took longer for those in Europe to adopt cars, which is why some places in Europe are not suitable for modern sized vehicles.

In 1894 the French magazine Le Petit Journal organized what is considered to be the world’s first motoring competition, from Paris to Rouen. Over one hundred competitors signed up for the competition. These applicants all had to compete in a selection event that would show which entrants would be allowed to participate in the full 80 mile race. Only 25 ended up being selected.

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The race lasted the full day, with the first person across the finish line, Count Jules-Albert de Dion ending in 6 hours and 48 minutes, with an average speed of 12 miles/hour. For reference on how fast this is, Usain Bolt clocked in at 28 miles/hour.

After the Paris to Rouen race in 1894 racing became more popular. Many city to city races were held, each gaining significant coverage in the news papers In 1903 a fatal crash in a race caused the French government to ban open-road racing, which influenced the racing industry immensely.

The longest automobile race in history happened in 1908, where six teams from across the world competed in a race from New York to Paris. The race lasted 169 days and covered over 22,000 miles. Only 3 of the 6 teams completed the race, and the winner was declared as George Schuster from America.

Knoxville Raceway in Iowa is the oldest and most prestigious racing tracks in the US. It was originally built as a horse racing track, but the 1 mile stretch began to hold sanctioned races starting in 1914.

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The first track built solely for automobile racing was in Surrey, opening in 1907. It was a 2.75 mile concrete track with high banked corners, which are still used today. It was closed in 1939 due to wartime aircraft production taking over, and was never reopened.

In America, NASCAR was founded in 1948. The first ever NASCAR race was held in 1949 at Daytona Beach. After NASCAR was formed and the end of WWII came, the public started to gain more interest in sports car racing. From there NASCAR expanded and grew nationwide into the organization we know today.

Interested in more? Read about the history of Drag Racing here.

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