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February 15, 2001|LARRY STEWART

What: "Time Machine: The History of Stock Car Racing"

Where: The History Channel, Saturday, 8 p.m.

On the eve of the Daytona 500, the History Channel takes a fast-paced ride through the history of stock car racing with this two-hour documentary. If you're a racing fan, you'll find it fascinating. If you're not, the documentary, produced by World Sports Enterprises, might seem too rose-colored.

The viewer is hammered over the head with stock car racing's popularity. But underneath the hyperbole is a film with captivating footage and information.

The film traces the sport from its bad-boy bootlegger beginnings to where it is today, beginning a new television era in which Fox and NBC paid $2.6 billion for rights.

Although hot rodders tested engines along the sands of Daytona Beach as early as 1903, organized racing began in the '30s. In those early days, drivers were considered as low as the dirt they drove on.

"We were considered scum," old-time mechanic Smokey Yunick says. "If I was going to check into a hotel and I wrote that I was an auto racer, no hotel in the world would have a room for me."

Bill France saw the need to organize the chaos. He organized a meeting on Dec. 12, 1947, in Daytona with 35 promoters. That led to NASCAR's creation. The first NASCAR race was held in June 1949 in Charlotte, N.C. A young Richard Petty was there because his father Lee competed in the race. "We've come a long way since then," Petty says.

NASCAR entered its first golden age when the first paved speedway was built in Darlington, N.C., in 1950 and the first Southern 500 was held there Sept. 4 of that year. From there, viewers are taken down memory lane as drivers such as Petty, David Pearson, Junior Johnson, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon recount their favorite races, competitors and stories.

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