NASCAR Racers, by Ben White. Click image to enlarge
By Russell Purcell
The latest offering in Motorbooks International’s First Gear series of books is titled NASCAR Racers. This book may just be a little larger than a standard paperback novel, but despite its diminutive size, it packs a serious punch. Stunning photographs by expert lens man Nigel Kinrade (as well as those from the NASCAR archives) bring life to the equally colourful biographies of some of NASCAR’s greatest drivers. Author Ben White profiles sixty drivers in NASCAR Racers, which is a significant number when you realize that NASCAR’s first ever race took place sixty years ago, on June 19, 1949 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The book begins with a look at the pioneers of the sport of stock car racing. These were men who raced their souped-up street cars on weekends, largely for enjoyment, aided by friends and family rather than the corporate bean counters and policy makers that control the sport today. Larger-than-life characters like Tim Flock, Junior Johnson and Fireball Roberts are brought to life through White’s excellent writing.
Tim Flock claimed to be “the most disqualified driver in NASCAR history,” and was eventually banned from competition for attempting to unionize the drivers. On a side note, we learn that Flock was one of the first drivers to see the sport for its entertainment value, which led him to carry a live monkey in his car on several occasions.
Junior Johnson is known to many fans as one of the most successful car owners of all time, but the chubby chicken farmer from North Carolina found his way to a career in NASCAR after honing his driving skills running moonshine!
Fireball Roberts was born in Daytona, Florida, so NASCAR was destined to play some role in this talented driver’s life. He is noted for being one of the first drivers to bring a level of professionalism to the sport, embracing the media and helping NASCAR gain acceptance.
The second chapter focuses on some of the most legendary names in NASCAR, including those drivers who have been able win multiple championships. The late, great Dale Earnhardt is joined by King Richard Petty, Darrell “Boogity-boogity” Waltrip, Jeff Gordon, and seven others. It ‘s hard enough to win a race, let alone a championship, but these individuals were fortunate enough to possess the perfect mix of talent, luck and machinery to get the job done more than once during their careers.
“One-Time Wonders” is the title given to the third chapter of the book. White looks at seven drivers who only found their way to victory lane on one occasion. You may ask how that gets you included in a book like this, but the author points out that literally thousands of drivers have competed in NASCAR over the last six decades, so even having a single victory is a big deal. To drum this point home it is worth noting that even American racing icon Mario Andretti is in this group!