Monday, February 1, 2010

Bechtel's Latest Book Captures What We Love About NASCAR

I was going to wait until I finished reading Mark Bechtel's new book before writing about it. But it's so darn good, I feel compelled to post about it now.

"He Crashed Me So I Crashed Him Back: The True Story of the Year the King, Jaws, Earnhardt, and the Rest of NASCAR's Feudin', Fightin' Good Ol' Boys Put Stock Car Racing on the Map" may have the longest title in publishing history. But don't let that put you off. Bechtel, a senior editor for Sports Illustrated, is a master at disguising dry details in engaging narrative.

It's a NASCAR history book that reads less like a piece of motorsports academia and more like a good yarn that your grandad might tell you while smoking a pipe in his easy chair.

It's genius, really.

From explaining the origins of The Alabama Gang to recounting Kyle Petty's honeymoon debut at Daytona, Bechtel is a sympathetic chronicler whose words balance a hearty respect for the sport with the blood-and-guts reality of how it all started.

Take this bit which contrasts Junior Johnson, Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough -

As odd a couple as Johnson and Allison were, Yarborough and Johnson seemed made for each other. Yarborough was, like Johnson, a strong, rugged outdoorsy type, a real man's man. Not that Allison was still a wimp. He had driven through some incredible injuries and never backed down from a fight. But he wasn't the kind of fella who would be the subject of a magazine profile detailing his nocturnal varmint-hunting habits, as Johnson later was in the summer of 1979, when Stock Car Racing ran a piece called "Coon Huntin With Jr. Johnson."

It's word pictures like this that connect the here-and-now to then then-and-gone. And after finishing certain passages in Bechtel's book, I felt like I had shaken hands with Junior Johnson, watched Bobby Allison build an engine and thrown a punch during in an infield melee.

Great stuff. And race fans should read it.

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