Book reviews: 'He Crashed Me So I Crashed Him Back' and 'Racing While Black'
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
By Mark Bechtel
Little, Brown. 308 pp. $25.99
RACING WHILE BLACK
How an African-American Stock-Car Team Made Its Mark on NASCAR
By Leonard T. Miller, with Andrew Simon
Seven Stories. 319 pp. $24.95
A pivotal moment in the saga of NASCAR (the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) came toward the end of the Daytona 500 in 1979, when one stock-car driver, Cale Yarborough, had an encounter with another, Donnie Allison. As Yarborough explained it: "He turned left and crashed me. So, hell, I crashed him back."
What made the crashing -- and there are varying reports as to who crashed whom -- so important was the ensuing brawl. Fighting -- or fightin', as the subtitle of Mark Bechtel's book on the national emergence of NASCAR has it -- is endemic to the sport, but this was caught on national TV. In fact, it was the first time a NASCAR race had been broadcast in its entirety, and numerous city slickers happened to tune in because an epic snowstorm across the nation kept them homebound.
"For something like [the fight] to happen in stock car racing was a common, ordinary, everyday thing almost," Humpy Wheeler, a legendary promoter of NASCAR, told Bechtel. "But to happen on TV in front of the American public just brought out this hidden culture that we had, where you settle things like a man, with your fists."
Although the fight helped put NASCAR in the American consciousness, good ol' boys have been racing stock cars for generations. Their sport has its roots in another facet of rural Southern culture: moonshine. Junior Johnson, the subject of a celebrated 1965 profile by Tom Wolfe and a prominent figure in Bechtel's book, started his racing career as a moonshiner. Trying to outrun the tax gents, Johnson invented a brilliant maneuver forever known as the "bootleg turn," in which the moonshiner makes a quick U-turn and heads off in the opposite direction, passing his astonished pursuer.