Ready, set, read! New books illustrate racing excitement
NASCAR fans are fortunate that there are several new books available covering different facets of the sport, from drivers to cheating. The books covered here provide an excellent background, particularly to newer fans.
¢ “Full Throttle,” by Robert Edelstein (Overlook Press), is a biography of Curtis Turner, NASCAR’s first superstar. Turner was nicknamed “the Babe Ruth of Stock Car Racing.”
Edelstein captures the Turner persona, from the fearless racer to legendary party guy to a businessman with a roller coaster.
The opening story alone is worth the price of the book. Turner, an experienced pilot, lands his single-engine plane, with three passengers aboard, in Easley, S.C., on a Sunday night, scattering terrified churchgoers. Turner was planning to restock the travelers’ liquor supply. Turner winds up on a highway, then takes off, barely missing telephone lines
Edelstein traces Turner’s colorful career from a moonshine runner in southern Virginia through his successful racing career in the 1950s. Turner perfected the dirt-track power slide.
Unlike many drivers in those days when car owners were named Hoss (Ellington) and Cotton (Owens), Turner didn’t need the money he earned from racing. He was successful in the timber business.
The book covers in detail two notable developments in Turner’s career: building Charlotte Motor Speedway with Bruton Smith and his four-year ban from NASCAR for attempting to organize a drivers union.
Turner was a friend of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. until the union-organizing attempt. In 1965, with Ford having no racing rivals and attendance down at races, track promoters urged France to reinstate Turner. France reluctantly agreed. Turner was 41 years old.
Five years later, Turner and a passenger died when the racer’s private plane crashed in western Pennsylvania.
As Edelstein writes, the likable Turner “embodied a quality that only a handful of sports stars ever truly possess: audacity. He did things because he believed unreservedly that he could.”
Actor James Garner, a longtime racing fan, says, “What made Curtis Turner a legend? He knew he was a legend and, therefore, he lived it.”
¢ “Cheating,” by Tom Jensen (David Bull Publishing), is an informative and entertaining history of cheating in NASCAR.
All the NASCAR characters are there, from Junior Johnson to Smokey Yunick.
Johnson’s attitude was “You just worked on what NASCAR didn’t check.”
Yunick, who ran the renowned “Best Damn Garage in Town” in Daytona Beach, Fla., was an innovator far ahead of his time. Driving a Yunick-prepared Chevrolet (General Motors was not officially in NASCAR at the time), Curtis Turner won the pole for the 1967 Daytona 500.
In the 1970s, some NASCAR teams used nitrous oxide (aka laughing gas), which gave engines a horsepower boost. At the 1976 Daytona 500, the cars driven by A.J. Foyt and Darrell Waltrip, the two fastest qualifiers, were disqualified after inspectors discovered nitrous oxide.
Summing up the attitude toward cheating, Waltrip said, “If you don’t cheat, you look like an idiot. If you do it and you don’t get caught, you look like a hero. If you do it and get caught, you look like a dope.”
¢ “Real Men Work in the Pits,” by Jeff Hammond (Rodale Inc.), follows Hammond’s career as a championship crew chief. Now a television racing analyst, Hammond recalls working for Junior Johnson. When crew members weren’t working on Johnson’s cars, they helped on the farm, milking cows and planting the garden.
Hammond and Darrell Waltrip are colleagues at Fox Sports, but Hammond wasn’t always a fan of ol’ DW. When Hammond worked for Junior Johnson and Cale Yarborough was their driver, Waltrip was a driver on the rise. Hammond: “We found out that nothing would shut Waltrip up. Nothing in the world.” Later, when Johnson was about to hire Waltrip, Hammond thought, “Man, I don’t want that mouthy son of a gun coming in here.” Waltrip and Hammond won two Cup titles together.