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Driving with the Devil


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About the Author

Neal Thompson is a veteran journalist who has worked for the Baltimore Sun, Philadelphia Inquirer, and St. Petersburg Times, and whose magazine stories have appeared in Outside, Esquire, Backpacker, and Men's Health. He teaches at the University of North Carolina-Asheville's Great Smokies Writing Program and is author of Light This Candle: The Life & Times of Alan Shepard, America's First Spaceman. Thompson, his wife, and their two sons live in the mountains outside Asheville, North Carolina.


Thompson's raucous account of NASCAR's early decades raises from obscurity the "motherless, dirt-poor southern teens... in jacked-up Fords full of corn whiskey" who originated the sport that's now the second most popular in America. Stock car racing grew up in the 1930s South, when moonshine runners, having perfected the art of daredevil driving while escaping "revenuers" hunting for untaxed whiskey, transferred their skills to the event booming in Atlanta and Daytona Beach. Loosely defined as races where the cars were totally unmodified even though they were actually supercharged beyond recognition stock car racing was a rawer, more redneck endeavor than AAA-sanctioned events like the Indy 500, which were the realm of rich enthusiasts driving specially built vehicles. Thompson (Light This Candle: The Life and Times of Alan Shepard) celebrates entrepreneurial ex-con Raymond Parks, wizardish mechanic Red Vogt and driver Red Byron instead of the better-known promoter Bill France, "the P.T. Barnum of stock car racing," whom Thompson blames for moving NASCAR from its whiskey-soaked past to mainstream, logo-strewn present. The author is clearly in love with his subject, and the enthusiasm of this breathless, nostalgic account will be contagious to Southern history buffs and historically minded NASCAR fans. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

"Thompson exhumes the sport's Prohibition-era roots in this colorful, meticulously detailed history."
-Time Magazine

"Here's the real story, not just of NASCAR, but of the new South that emerged from moonshine and speed."
--Richard Ben Cramer, author of Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life and editor of The Best American Sports Writing 2004 "Neal Thompson has written NASCAR's Glory of Their Times. He tells the true story of NASCAR's beginnings, revealing the sport's strong whiskey roots and letting us get to know its key movers and shakers, including the triumvirate of racer Red Byron, mechanic Red Vogt, and bootlegger car owner Raymond Parks. Like Seabiscuit, Thompson makes a sport and an era come wonderfully alive."
--Peter Golenbock, author of Miracle: Bobby Allison and the Saga of the Alabama Gang and American Zoom: Stock Car Racing--From Dirt Tracks to Daytona "Driving with the Devil is a full-tilt excursion through the back roads of NASCAR's past, when moonshiners and scofflaws pioneered the sport. This is a tale that sanitized corporate NASCAR would rather forget about, but with Neal Thompson at the wheel, it makes for wonderful reading."
--Sharyn McCrumb, author of St. Dale "Driving with the Devil is a treasure trove of historically relevant information that tracks the history of the American automobile industry, the culture and morality of the broader society, and the motivations and personalities of early stock-car-racing operatives. All of which have inexorably contributed to the foundation and fabric of NASCAR's brand of stock-car racing as it manifests itself today."
--Jack Roush, chairman of Roush Racing "Driving with the Devil is a most impressive piece of work. Most Americans have the vague notion that big-time stock-car racing sprang from moonshine-hauling in the southern Appalachians prior to the Second World War, but here is documented proof that it was that and much more. Neal Thompson's Driving with the Devil nails it once and for all: a riveting report any student of Americana will cherish. It's no more about racing than The Old Man and the Sea is about fishing."
--Paul Hemphill, author of Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams and Wheels: A Season on NASCAR's Winston Cup Circuit "A fascinating and fast-moving account of NASCAR's fledgling days."
-Atlanta Journal Constitution "There are more divorces, drunks and wrecks than you can shake a checkered flag at...A thoroughly researched account of a 'simpler time' in a sport that has since become a multi-billion dollar business."
-NBC News anchor Brian Williams, in the Wall Street Journal

Thompson (Light This Candle) focuses on the early history of NASCAR racing. Unlike other writers on the subject, however, he delves into the pre-World War II roots of the sport-the beginnings of true "`stock car" racing-and finds older drivers still alive to tell their stories. He also outlines the development of the organization that structured freelance competitive racing events into a sanctioned sport, one much safer for both driver and spectator. In the portraits that emerge here, Thompson mines the rich heritage of Southern culture and mixes macho adventurists, speed, grim determination, and the automobile, capturing not only the regional appeal of the sport, but also the tenor of the times. The book ends where most other histories begin: in the 1950s, as the sport finally organized itself into a going concern. This is recommended as a revealing look at the oldest history of what has grown to be a multi-billion-dollar industry and the second most popular spectator sport in the country.-Eric C. Shoaf, Brown Univ. Lib., Providence Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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