Since Prohibition, stock car racing was what they did down South when they weren't using their hopped-up Fords, Chryslers, Hudsons and Oldsmobiles in other pursuits.
Bill France founded NASCAR in 1948, bringing coherence and a certain respectability to the sport.
In 1955, Chevrolet, now V-8 powered, was the new kid on the block. The basic engine would never change. But neither the car nor the sport would ever be the same.
Chevys have raced on many fronts since the '50s, but none has had a greater influence on its owner base.
If the division wins the manufacturers' championship in 2011, it would be its 35th.
Despite the recent drop in NASCAR attendance and TV ratings, the bloom isn't gone from the rose. General Motors racing boss Jim Campbell says Chevy's motorsports promotions account for more than half of all of the buyer leads the division gets from sales promotions generally. Such focus is a marketer's dream.
How it all started depends on whom you believe. The late, great Smokey Yunick always insisted that France had a plan to "hook Ed Cole" into NASCAR. He said he was there during a secret meeting in early 1955 with the Chevy chief engineer at North Wilkesboro, N.C., when France dangled the bait. And Cole bit.
Zora Arkus-Duntov, godfather of the Corvette and a Cole lieutenant, declared a more pivotal moment occurred in 1956, when he lured reigning Winston Cup champ Buck Baker away from Chrysler during another secret meeting, this one at a deserted Trenton, N.J., racetrack. Baker also won the 1957 crown, this time driving a Chevy. It was a first for the marque.
Regardless of the genesis, upstart Chevy suddenly had legitimacy on a stage surrounded by passionate fans and car buyers.
Cole: Courting "the kids"
'We don't have 20 years'
That overjoyed Ed Cole, who told Smokey, "We've got an old man's car, and we don't have 20 years for the kids to catch on. I want to get to young people now, and I think I can do it through racing."
The Automobile Manufacturers Association's no-racing edict of 1957 impeded the mission, but only slightly.
With Chevy dealers as a convenient source for speed parts and Vince Piggins, the wunderkind hired away from Hudson, providing clandestine engineering assistance, independent teams kept the Chevy flag flying on the stock car scene through the 1960s and 1970s.
An unusual sloping urethane nose graced the Laguna in the mid-'70s, making it the weapon of choice for NASCAR'S Chevy teams. Driving one for Junior Johnson in 1976 and 1977, Cale Yarborough won 28 races and the first two of three consecutive Winston Cup championships.
The car magazines gleefully pondered Chevy's undeniable attention to its NASCAR teams while GM's racing ban remained in place.
But when Chevy General Manager Bob Stempel succeeded in getting the ban relaxed and Johnson decided to make a Monte Carlo SS out of Darrell Waltrip's Buick Regal in 1983, the division came out of the closet.
Piggins retired, to be succeeded by Herb Fishel, a protege who had managed motorsports for Buick. A new day dawned at Chevy, where it was not only OK to openly aid and abet race teams, it was OK to advertise their victories.
Dale Earnhardt, in a 1986 NASCAR Monte Carlo SS
4 for 4 for Chevy
Yarborough won the 1984 Daytona 500 for Harry Ranier in a Chevrolet. Terry Labonte won the Winston Cup championship that year for Billy Hagan in a Chevrolet.
Waltrip's NASCAR championship in 1985 for Johnson, followed in '86 and '87 by Dale Earnhardt's championships for Richard Childress, made it four for four for Chevrolet.
And that did it. The tongue-in-cheek Chevy ditty: "We don't race, we don't win, because racing is a mortal sin," was dead and buried.
Constant attention to engine performance had always been a priority. But if a nip or tuck to the bodywork of a production car could lead to an aerodynamic improvement on the race car, the deed often was done.
In the 1970s, Chevy had fashioned the scoop-nosed Laguna to make the car more competitive in NASCAR. In the early 1980s, the same goal led to the redesign of both ends of the Monte Carlo.
But the designers outdid themselves in 1986 with the Monte Carlo Aerocoupe, of which just enough (200) were built for NASCAR to allow the adoption of the radical silhouette on Winston Cup Chevys.
It was off with Monte Carlo SS sheet metal in April 1989, six years and 95 Winston Cup wins after its 1983 debut, and on with the new Lumina, which faced immediate travail.
Production Luminas were front-wheel-drive V-6s. But the race car would be a rear-wheel-drive V-8, which made NASCAR's prized "stock car" motif even more illusive.
Also, the production Lumina was a year behind schedule, so whatever success the race car enjoyed wouldn't affect sales. And because its fwd silhouette differed significantly from the shape of the rwd Monte Carlo, racers worried over the car's aerodynamic characteristics.
The fretting soon eased. In only its second outing, Darrell Waltrip's Lumina won the Coca-Cola 600 May 28 at Charlotte, hometown of Waltrip's car owner, Rick Hendrick.
Hendrick's winning ways were far from over. Since 1995, the year the Monte Carlo badge came back, Hendrick drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson have picked up nine NASCAR crowns between them.
Add Labonte's '96 championship and one of Tony Stewart's pair and you have 11 Chevy champs in the last 16 years.
A major Monte Carlo redesign in 2000 produced a slight decklid hump requested by Chevy race teams so it could be incorporated into their race car templates.
As NASCAR's universal "Car of Tomorrow" took shape in 2007, Chevy's decision to call its entry an Impala hearkened back to Junior Johnson's awesome 1963 run. That's the year the youngster from Ingle Hollow, N.C., drove Ray Fox's white No. 3 Impala in 32 NASCAR races, collecting nine poles, 13 top 10 finishes and seven wins.