Today in 1948, the National Association for Stock Car Racing–or NASCAR–was officially incorporated. NASCAR racing is one of America’s most popular spectator sports, as well as a multi-billion-dollar industry.
The force behind the establishment of NASCAR was William “Bill” France Sr. (1909-1992), a mechanic and auto-repair shop owner from Washington, D.C., who in the mid-1930s moved to Daytona Beach, Florida. The Daytona area was a gathering spot for racing enthusiasts, and France became involved in racing cars and promoting races. After witnessing how racing rules could vary from event to event and how dishonest promoters could abscond with prize money, France felt there was a need for a governing body to sanction and promote racing. He gathered members of the racing community to discuss the idea, and NASCAR was born. France served as NASCAR’s first president.
NASCAR held its first Strictly Stock race on June 19, 1949, at the Charlotte Speedway in North Carolina. Some 13,000 fans were on hand to watch Glenn Dunnaway finish the 200-lap race first in his Ford; however, Jim Roper (who drove a Lincoln) collected the $2,000 prize after Dunnaway was disqualified for illegal rear springs on his vehicle. In the early years of NASCAR, competitors drove the same types of cars that people drove on the street–Buicks, Cadillacs, Oldsmobiles, among others–with minimal modifications. (Today, the cars are highly customized.)
In 1950, the first NASCAR-based track, the Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, opened. More new raceways followed, including the Daytona International Speedway, which opened in 1959. (Lee Petty won the first Daytona 500.) On February 18, 1979, the first live flag-to-flag coverage of the Daytona 500 was broadcast on television. An end-of-the-race brawl between drivers Cale Yarborough and Donnie and Bobby Allison was a huge publicity generator and helped boost NASCAR’s popularity.
In 1972 William France Jr. (1933-2007) took over the presidency of NASCAR. Over the next three decades, the younger France was instrumental in transforming NASCAR from a regional sport popular primarily in the southeast into one with a global fan base. France led NASCAR into a new era of lucrative corporate sponsorships and billion-dollar TV contracts. Today, NASCAR has three national series as well as four regional series and two international series. The organization sanctions over 1,200 races at 100 tracks across North America.
Today in 1972 President Richard M. Nixon arrived at Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China. Nixon was also the first president to visit a nation not recognized by the United States. President Nixon met with Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai. The president announced that his breakthrough visit to China is “The week that changed the world.”
At the Shanghai Communiqué on February 27, Nixon and the Chinese premier agreed to lessen the risk of war, expand cultural contacts between the two nations, and establish a permanent U.S. trade mission in China. In addition, the United States acknowledged China’s “one-China” policy and agreed to a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops from the island of Taiwan. The two leaders also secretly discussed ways in which they could cooperate to check the growth of Soviet power in Asia and elsewhere.
North Vietnamese officials and peace negotiators took a dim view of Nixon’s trip, fearing that China and the United States would make a deal behind their backs. Despite Hanoi’s fears, China continued to supply North Vietnam levels of aid that had increased significantly in late 1971. This aid permitted the North Vietnamese to launch a major new offensive in March 1972.
Today in 1885 the Washington Monument was dedicated in Washington, D.C.
The 555-foot-high marble obelisk was first proposed in 1783. After George Washington’s death in 1799, plans for a memorial were discussed, but none were adopted until 1832–the centennial of Washington’s birth. Architect Robert Mills’ hollow Egyptian obelisk design was accepted for the monument, and on July 4, 1848, the cornerstone was laid. Work on the project was interrupted by political quarreling in the 1850s, and construction ceased entirely during the Civil War. Finally, in 1876, Congress, inspired by the American centennial, passed legislation appropriating $200,000 for completion of the monument.
The monument was the tallest structure in the world when completed and remains today, by District of Columbia law, the tallest building in the nation’s capital.
Today in 1970 National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger began secret peace talks with North Vietnamese representative Le Duc Tho, the fifth-ranking member of the Hanoi Politburo, at a villa outside Paris.
Le Duc Tho stated that the North Vietnamese position continued to require an unconditional U.S. withdrawal on a fixed date and the abandonment of the Thieu government as a precondition for further progress. The North Vietnamese rejected Kissinger’s proposals for a mutual withdrawal of military forces, the neutralization of Cambodia, and a mixed electoral commission to supervise elections in South Vietnam. The other two meetings, in which there was a similar lack of progress, were held on March 16 and April 4.
Happy birthday Erma Louise Bombeck, humorist , columnist, author, born today in 1927at Dayton, Ohio. (Another source says Bellbrook, Ohio.)
Bombeck wrote her nationally syndicated column “At Wit’s End” mostly about the everyday trials of suburban housewives with a humorous slant from 1965 to 1996, over 4,000 columns, which appeared in 900 newspapers and read by 30 million people. She published 15 books; many were bestsellers.
Erma Bombeck died April 22, 1996 at San Francisco. She was age 69. She is buried at Dayton, Ohio.
Rest in peace Malcolm Little, aka Malcolm X, black American nationalist and religious leader, assassinated today in 1965 by rival Black Muslims (Nation of Islam) while addressing his Organization of Afro-American Unity at the Audubon Ballroom, Washington Heights, New York City.
Malcolm X was born May 19, 1925, at Omaha, Nebraska. Unlike civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X advocated self-defense and the liberation of African Americans “by any means necessary.” As a fiery orator, Malcolm was admired by the African American community in New York and around the country.
Malcolm X is buried in Hartsdale, New York. He was age 39. At the gravesite after the funeral ceremony, friends took the shovels from the waiting gravediggers and completed the burial themselves.