NASCAR, Untaxed Liquor, and the Whiskey Rebellion

Crabber 1967 .Correspondent IOctober 3, 2008


What do NASCAR and The Whiskey Rebellion have in common? Why, revenue agents and untaxed liquor, of course. Here's some early history that Brian France doesn’t want you to know.



As a schoolboy, one of the events of post-revolutionary U.S. history that stuck in my mind, and has to this day, was The Whiskey Rebellion. Now was this because of the unusual name, or was it the fact that it was about Revenue Agents and untaxed liquor, some things that sounded familiar to this southern boy?


The Whiskey Rebellion was about the Wild West of its day. The early racers of NASCAR were cowboys of their day; cowboys of the open road and certainly a wild bunch.  The more I learned about like the early days of NASCAR, the more it sounded like The Whiskey Rebellion.


The Wild West that Hollywood has burned into our memory is of the mid-continent: wide plains, cattle drives and cowboys. The Wild West of the Post-Revolutionary United States was the Allegheny Mountains and the western lands beyond.


This mountain area was settled by people of mostly English, Scots, Irish, or Scots-Irish origin. These mountain men, like their descendants in the 1940s, were without much cash.


They found that making whiskey, a heritage they brought over from the old country, from the grain they grew made a product that was easier to transport and was worth a lot more on the open market than the raw materials it was made from.


The westerners of 1794 did not want to pay Federal taxes on something that was not only a valuable form of cash in a largely barter society, but something they thought was their God-given right to make.


After all, wasn’t the recently won revolution about “no taxation without representation” and hadn’t their ancestors been in the English Civil War of the 1600s because of farm product taxes?


Their distrust of the government back east was very much like their ancestors’ distrust of the aristocracy in the old country, and was one of the reasons that they had left the old world and settled on the fringes of this new society.  


Although the Wild West of America had moved to the center of the continent, and then onto the movie screens, the 1940's ancestors of the Allegheny Mountains settlers of the 1700’s were no longer on the edges of society geographically.


Still, they maintained their belief that making whiskey was a man’s right, and those meddlesome outsiders had no right to tax a good man’s hard work. 


At the end of World War II, a lot of young men, many of them trained by the military to work on things mechanical: Jeeps, trucks, tanks and aircraft, came home looking for jobs.


For those from the southern Allegheny Mountain area there was again a reason to make moonshine: a quick way to put money in the pockets of mountain men who were following the traditions and skills of liquor making passed down by their fathers before them.


While the war veterans out West put their mechanical skills to return to racing on the salt flats (the dry lake beds they used before the war were now air bases) and inventing drag racing, the young veterans of the South used their skills to improve the speed of the cars used to transport the untaxed liquor to the customers in the towns.


The taxation efforts on liquor by the Federal Government had not stopped after The Whiskey Rebellion, and by 1863, the Congress had authorized the Federal Governments' tax collecting arm, then known as the Office of Internal Revenue to hire “three detectives to aid in the prevention, detection, and punishment of tax evaders."


These first agents were the predecessors of the Revenue Service “Revenuers” who found that they had to catch these Southern “tax evaders” first! The moonshine haulers proved to be a fast bunch, running down the back roads of the South.


Stock car racing began in the South when some moonshine haulers decided to see who had the better car. In some farmer's field they decided to amuse themselves and decide who the best was. Then some folks heard about the fun, decided to see what was going on, and gathered to watch.


When the drivers found that someone had passed a hat among the spectators, and there was money to be won, this racing thing got a little more serious. By 1948, Big Bill France decided that the only way this new Wild West of motorsport would survive was if there was some sort of organization.


While I don’t know if anyone has ever called Big Bill France the George Washington of NASCAR, but it wouldn’t be far wrong. In 1794, George Washington went with the troops to put down the Whiskey Rebellion. Just imagine if you will, Dwight D. Eisenhower driving a Revenue Agents’ car trying to catch Curtis Turner on the back roads of Virginia or Junior Johnson in Carolina!


Big Bill France didn’t have an army, but he was a large and imposing man, and was known to carry a gun to enforce his rules. There was one occasion it was said, that Big Bill fired his gun in the air to make sure everyone at that drivers' meeting knew that Bill France was running this show, and running it his way.


The winner of the first Strictly Stock (now Cup) series race was disqualified because of modified rear springs. Now, some stories in recent years would have you believe that the modification of that car was an effort to cheat the rules, while in reality, the car was a moonshine hauler car, and such a car would certainly need strengthened rear springs to hold up all the extra weight of that untaxed liquor.


So that car was modified to cheat the law, not any rules NASCAR may have come up with. When Glen Dunaway was disqualified at that first Strictly Stock race in June 1949, his car owner sued the new sanctioning body, NASCAR.


The Whiskey Rebellion and the disqualification of Glen Dunaway set important legal foundations for the United States and NASCAR, respectively. When the troops George Washington led arrived in western Pennsylvania, the Whiskey Rebellion was quickly over.


This incident established the power of Federal law within the states. When NASCAR won the court case over the disqualification of Glen Dunaway, its power to make and enforce rules was established by law.


While important legal precedents were established in both incidents, things really did not change. Untaxed whiskey continued to be made after the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, even up to today. 


And although the Dunaway car may not have been modified to cheat the rules of NASCAR, “creative interpretation” or “getting competitive” or what some would even crudely call “cheating” in regards to NASCAR rules, continues to this day as well.


While Big Bill’s grandson, Brian France, doesn’t want you to know or even care about anything that happen in NASCAR prior to 1972, (and he certainly doesn’t want to admit that the early stars that built the foundation of NASCAR were “training” for the races by hauling untaxed liquor on the back roads of the South), he is certainly glad that the owner of Glen Dunaway’s moonshine car sued NASCAR.


That's because the winning of that court case established the power of Big Bill France and NASCAR. Brian France certainly enjoys his power over the sport, but much like kings of the past, he certainly doesn’t want anyone to look too closely at how the power was obtained and how it is now used.



About the “ATF” seal above:  The “Revenuers” who chased the moonshiners in the 1940’s worked for what was then known as The Alcohol Tax Unit of the Bureau of Internal Revenue. The ATU later became the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Division of the IRS and for the first time it began to be referred to by the initials "ATF."  The ATF (by then actually called The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) was, effective Jan. 24, 2003, transferred under the Homeland Security bill to the Department of Justice from the Treasury Department. The official seal [shown above] of what is still called the ATF carries the date of 1972, the creation year of The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.