Mark Bechtel

Improbable connections and unstoppable comedy.

Sports Illustrated senior editor Mark Bechtel has covered the explosive phenomenon that is NASCAR for nearly a decade. In his new book He Crashed Me So I Crashed Him Back, Bechtel chronicles the birth of stock car racing as we know it today, in the heady and sometimes chaotic 1979 racing season when emerging legends like Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt first gained nationwide fame. We asked the author to share three of his own favorite reads.

Books by Mark Bechtel

Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football

By David Winner

“I’m a sucker for interesting, freakonomic explanations for things. So long as they hold water, the freakier the explanation, the better. (He Crashed Me So I Crashed Him Back has an extended riff on how the Iranian revolution of 1979 helped contribute to NASCAR’s growth in popularity.) And Winner’s thesis here is pretty freaky. He argues that the way the Dutch have played soccer since their heyday in the late 1960s and 1970s has been heavily influenced by the national psyche. Underlying both are an appreciation for aesthetics, a sense of collectivism and an understanding of spatial relationships. It might sound arcane and weighty, but Winner pulls it off in a light, funny manner that’s a whole lot more than just “Johan Cruyff was the Rembrandt of soccer.” Never has reading about dike-building as it relates to soccer formations been more enjoyable—even if you have no particular affinity for the Dutch or for soccer. “

Lucky Jim

By Kinglsey Amis

“Writing funny is not easy, which apparently no one ever told Amis. You can argue that Lucky Jim is indispensible because it helped launch the Angry Young Man movement of the 1950s, or because it perfectly satirizes the stodginess of English campus life. I’d argue it’s indispensible because it’s the funniest book ever written. The characters are memorable, the set pieces are believably absurd, the writing is razor sharp and the whole thing holds up remarkably well 55 years later. This sounds like a horribly pretentious thing to say, but Lucky Jim is the book that made me want to be a writer. All I’ve ever wanted to do is come up with something half as funny as Amis’ description of Jim’s hangover at the start of Chapter 6. I never have. I never will.”

The Van

By Roddy Doyle

“Soccer plays a large role in this one as well, but it really could have any sport in any sports-mad town. The action takes place in Dublin during Ireland’s surprising run in the 1990 World Cup. To capitalize on the frenzy, two middle-aged men who’ve lost their jobs open a van that sells fish and chips, primarily to drunken fans as they stagger out of pubs. It’s a revealing look at the way the sports provide a release for the working class. But saying The Van is about soccer is like saying War and Peace is about military tactics. It’s an examination of the intricacies of male friendships and mid-life crises that, like Doyle’s other books in the Barrytown Trilogy (The Commitments and The Snapper), is full of snappy dialogue and hilarious moments that are often surprisingly touching.”