A reader writes:
Haven't you ever seen the Dukes of Hazzard? The reason the General Lee stock car - which they also used to race - was so ginned up and boss hog was always after them was because they were bootleggers!
The NASCAR-prohibition link is pretty widely known, and is a bit of a point of pride among NASCAR fans. (I am not a big fan, but living in North Carolina, am surrounded by them.) This is well known enough that it gets mentioned in the Will Ferrell movie, Talladega Nights.
In the context of Prohibition, it's worth mentioning that while the period between the 18th and 21st Amendments was certainly a high point for the whiskey runners, the phenomenon both started before it and continued afterwards.
The high tax on whiskey made (and continues to make) the production of untaxed liquor a profitable venture. It's still very possible to get a quart of lightning in a Mason jar (and in order to avoid self-incrimination, I'll neither confirm nor deny having sampled some fine homemade peach brandy from Surry County), and the NC Alcohol Law Enforcement division still has agents dedicated to hunting down the odd unlicensed still. In fact, it should say something about how much influence Prohibition had on this that these agents have been called "revenuers" for over a century.
Still, despite the ongoing presence of unregistered whiskey production, the stills are run largely by individuals, and the revenue is not sufficient to support organized crime around it. Take home message for pot: the underground market will persist after legalization, but probably without supporting gang activity.
“[David Okert] says it emerged in the South after Prohibition ended, when all the former runners of liquor needed new uses for their driving skills and fast cars now that they could no longer make a profit smuggling booze.”
First, it’s Daniel Okrent - the same Danny Okrent who was public editor of the NYT. Second, this southern historian finds the dating all wrong. There’s a long-standing legend (popularized by Tom Wolfe in “The Last American Hero”) that NASCAR racers were ex-moonshiners - and indeed some of them (not all) were. But the end of Prohibition didn’t mean the end of moonshining by a long shot; indeed, Junior Johnson, the subject of Wolfe’s story, was a legendary moonshine runner in the 1940s and 1950s before turning his attention to NASCAR.
I thought you might be interested in Esquire's Tom Wolfe feature on Junior Johnson. I'm not a NASCAR fan, and this isn't about Prohibition as it was under the Eighteenth Amendment, but any article about a guy who ran moonshine, invented the so-called "bootleg turn", used fake police sirens to blow through roadblocks, was never caught during a chase, won 50 races in the days when auto racing was appallingly dangerous, ended up being pardoned by Reagan, and voted for Obama after being disgusted with John McCain's campaign tactics is worth a read, yes?
Related to your post on NASCAR, you and your readers might be interested in a review by Clay Risen, published earlier this year in Bookforum, of Real NASCAR by Daniel Pierce and He Crashed Me so I Crashed Him Back by Mark Bechtel. Risen refers to the connection between Prohibition and the rise of NASCAR at the very beginning:
Pioneered by bootleggers and shade-tree mechanics, stock-car racing was long a sport exclusive to the rural, southern working class. Races took place on red-clay tracks, and the cars were often the same ones drivers had used to haul moonshine the night before, with few modifications save for wider intake valves. Early drivers were famous womanizers and drinkers; one, Buddy Shuman, told a reporter, "Ma'am, I just take 'er down the straightaway. 'Lord Calvert' takes her through the turns."
I think your readers might be interested in the review since Risen makes clear the connections between NASCAR and both the culture and politics of contemporary US.
VBS.TV has a great little documentary on moonshining in South Carolina.
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