Sports & Leisure - Overview
The nation's passion for sports is obvious every day—at NASCAR races, kiddie soccer matches, and countless other contests. From a handball used by Abraham Lincoln to Chris Evert's tennis racket to a baseball signed by Jackie Robinson, the roughly 6.000 objects in the Museum's sports collections bear witness to the vital place of sports in the nation's history. Paper sports objects in the collections, such as souvenir programs and baseball cards, number in the hundreds of thousands.
Leisure collections encompass a different range of objects, including camping vehicles and gear, video games, playing cards, sportswear, exercise equipment, and Currier and Ives prints of fishing, hunting, and horseracing. Some 4,000 toys dating from the colonial period to the present are a special strength of the collections.
"Sports & Leisure - Overview" showing 1 items.
- In 1952, Leon Hurd extensively modified this 1932 Ford coupe, beefing-up the frame and installing stronger springs, and installing a 1942 Ford "59A"-block "flathead" V-8 engine. Initially the car ran without fenders, during the short time that was permitted by the Atlantic Racing Association racing rules. (NASCAR was in its infancy.)
- Hurd raced in New England from 1952 through 1955, winning more than 100 races in that time. The car carried racing number "00." In 1979, Hurd did some minor restoration on the car.World War II period saw a relative explosion of motor racing on both sides of the Atlantic and a proliferation of distinctly American types of racing with no counterparts in Europe. One such uniquely American type was "stock car" racing. Popular interest was whetted by races run with cars that were entirely like - or mostly looked like - those for sale in the showrooms or on the used-car lots. Fans could cheer for cars that looked like the cars they drove in everyday use.
- Most auto racers preferred two-door coupes: a smaller, two-door car was lighter for better acceleration yet could house a powerful engine; and a coupe had a roof, which helped protect the driver in roll-overs, which were not uncommon in the pell-mell anarchy of beach races. To help him set rules for stock-car racing, Bill France created the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, NASCAR, in 1948; NASCAR's first season was 1949. Then France had another idea: too many spectators could enjoy his beach races without paying the admission charges for his viewing areas closer to the course. So why not build a modern oval race track away from the beach, surrounded by bleachers, and thus configured so that any and all spectators had to pay to see the races - and far more spectators at that?
- It was an old idea, actually. In the US from about 1910, the dominant money in the early years of auto racing came from entrepreneurial track owners (many of whom had previously owned bicycle tracks or velodromes). Track owners knew that strict control of access to the racing venues was the key to maximum income from spectators. And oval tracks gave by far the best view to the most customers, also a motivating factor for ticket buyers. (In contrast, Europe and Britain never developed such enclosed oval tracks. Very wealthy car-owners and manufacturers have always controlled auto racing there, and such elite car-owners and manufacturers have strongly preferred open-road courses as more sporting - and also more likely to help improve auto design technology. Thus modern European closed tracks still follow the "open road" idea, with lots of turns and curves.)
- Bill France saw the success of the paved oval track built at Darlington, SC, in 1950. So, with his business model in hand based on droves of paying race fans, France began raising money in 1953 and, a few years later, opened a new Daytona Speedway. NASCAR came of age in 1959, with the first running of the Daytona 500.
- "Stock-car" racing found a home quickly in the South, where "moonshiners" or "rum runners" during Prohibition had been modifying ordinary-looking cars with "souped-up" engines (i.e., modified for greater power) and stiffened suspensions -- and hidden tanks for booze -- to outrun federal marshals on backwoods roads when necessary to elude arrest. But organized stock-car racing on closed courses -- beginning in the late 1940s -- found eager fans as well in the Northeast, Midwest, and Far West; the South had no monopoly. Sponsorship money, particularly from local auto dealers, became more plentiful; "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" soon became a byword among retail car dealers. The cheaper, individually owned stock cars -- coupes that were often referred to as "jalopies" -- raced on local and regional dirt tracks. Well-sponsored cars fielded by wealthier owners with funding and engineering assistance from Detroit manufacturers raced at larger, paved oval tracks with extensive bleachers for the fans.
- Track owners set the pattern for organized stock-car racing. Bill France, of Daytona Beach, Florida, had witnessed the popularity of pre-war "beach racing" (see Web entry on the racing automobile, Winton 'Bullet' No. 1). In the late 1940s, he organized beach races for any local car-owners who liked the idea of competing against each other with more-or-less "stock" automobiles.
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- Hurd, Leon H.
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- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center