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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
More than any other sport, NASCAR is a generational affair, where legends and their sons race against other legends and their brothers, on the track and in the pits. In My Greatest Day in NASCAR, Bob McCullough explores the rich family tradition of NASCAR. Among the many racing heroes and dynasties celebrated here, the Allisons, Jarretts, Labontes, and Pettys reveal standout memories from their long, storied, and interwoven careers.
McCullough's book -- like his previous work, My Greatest Day in Baseball -- allows the participants to tell their own stories, skillfully weaving anecdotes and remembrances from extensive interviews. Nearly 50 NASCAR drivers, managers, and mechanics reflect on their single greatest day in the sport. On the whole, these NASCAR men share a gracious, down-to-earth spirit. For instance, immediately after winning the 1986 Daytona 500, Geoffrey Bodine joined his parents in a nearby K-Mart parking lot to help sell souvenirs. The pride and strength of family supersedes even the glory of a victory lap.
Intriguingly, the most poignant memory in the book is one that has been lost. Due to a head injury, Bobby Allison now has no recollection of his 1988 Daytona 500 victory. Yet he remarks, "At age 50, to win the Super Bowl [of NASCAR] with the best young man in racing second behind you, and that being your own son, there's got to be no better achievement in any profession." Ned and Dale Jarrett share another historic father-and-son NASCAR moment, both commenting on the 1993 Daytona 500, where Dale sped past Dale Earnhardt on the last lap while his father announced the race from the television booth. "He was coming around to get the white flag," reflects Ned, "and he got a run on Earnhardt. He was making the pass, so when he went into turn one, they turned me loose. [Neil] said, 'Okay, Ned, call your son home and be a daddy.' So that's when I just turned from being a supposedly professional announcer and started being a dad." Brothers Bobby and Terry Labonte each recount a 1984 race in Atlanta. For them, the race played out the ideal scenario: Bobby won the race, and Terry finished strongly enough to beat out Jeff Gordon for the Winston Cup championship.
Perhaps the ultimate NASCAR family is the Petty clan. Kyle discusses watching his father race, and the emotion of winning himself. Then he reflects on watching his son race: "Just to step back and look at the overall picture and say, 'God, he's the first fourth-generation athlete in America. He's a fourth-generation Petty; there's always been a Petty running in this sport." The King, Richard Petty, recalls his advice to his grandson Adam, his 200th win at the 1984 Daytona 500 (where he met President Reagan), and the Pettys' legacy to the sport.
Though conspicuously absent on the list of those interviewed, The Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt, looms like a menacing shadow over the other NASCAR racers' stories. Joe Nemechek recalls a 1992 showdown with Earnhardt at the Homestead in Miami: "One thing I remember was coming off the corner, my corner was full of smoke from rubbing tires with him, and I looked over at him, and I think he was looking at me -- he was just smiling."
Brett and Geoffrey Bodine both discuss battling Earnhardt in their most memorable races. The Intimidator also played a role in Jeff Gordon's ultimate victory, the 1999 Valentine's Day Daytona 500. Gordon says, "Once I got in the lead and Earnhardt was behind me, I literally watched my mirror more than I ever watched what was going on in front of me."
In its 50-year history, NASCAR has seen drastic improvements in racing technology and technique. The sport's innovators are also some of its best storytellers. Junior Johnson gives a stirring account of the 1960 Daytona 500, in which he became the first to use drafting as a race car tactic. NASCAR characters Humpy Wheeler and Smokey Yunick give hilarious reflections on their roles in the history of the sport.
When Johnson entered his Chevrolet in the 1960 Daytona 500, nobody figured he would compete with the fleet of superior Pontiacs. Johnson devised a strategy, though, and kept it to himself. "They couldn't believe we'd won the race, you know, it was like, 'How in the world did he win the race with that piece of crap he was driving?'"
Wheeler secured a Winston race for the Charlotte Speedway by promising to light the track and hold the race at night. "They said, 'Well, that's a great idea,' and in essence we knew we had it. What they didn't know, that I knew, is that we didn't have the slightest idea how we were gonna do it." Things looked bad for Wheeler after he tested the lights and had a mishap on the fourth turn.
The crusty Yunick, who competed in Johnson's 1960 Daytona victory, tells of how he engineered Jim Rathmann's 1960 Indianapolis 500 victory -- and was subsequently denied due credit. He begins his story in style: "I guess you'll have to decide for yourself whether you believe the story, but I'm gonna tell it the way it was -- I don't really give a shit how you interpret it."
In My Greatest Day in NASCAR, author McCullough doesn't shape the drivers' narratives. He lets them breathe. And while the approach sometimes results in vague or repetitive passages, it also projects the drivers as everyday people. This allows NASCAR's loyal fandom to glory in the vicarious pleasure the sport has to offer. Imagining a Daytona 500 victory, "You can still close your eyes and feel the sun on your face." (Brenn Jones)