My Life in the Pits: Living and Learning on the NASCAR Winston Cup Circuit

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NASCAR is fast, loud, exciting, exhilarating, and the fastest-growing sport in America. Now, a former sports reporter and the author of What Southern Women Know enters this "man's world" of blinding speed and thundering engines to offer a fascinating, funny, poignant, and remarkable look at the racers, their fans, their cars, and their lives from a woman's point of view.My Life in the PitsRonda Rich came to Winston Cup racing as a skeptical young journalist working on a story about the sport's emerging dynasty, ...
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Overview

NASCAR is fast, loud, exciting, exhilarating, and the fastest-growing sport in America. Now, a former sports reporter and the author of What Southern Women Know enters this "man's world" of blinding speed and thundering engines to offer a fascinating, funny, poignant, and remarkable look at the racers, their fans, their cars, and their lives from a woman's point of view.My Life in the PitsRonda Rich came to Winston Cup racing as a skeptical young journalist working on a story about the sport's emerging dynasty, the Elliotts. Once there, like so many others she found it hard to leave, becoming addicted to the spellbinding thrill of high velocity and the smell of gasoline. Behind the scenes at race tracks like Talladega and Daytona, she rubbed shoulders with the colorful and unforgettable stars who drive fast for love and glory: the charismatic Richard Petty, the gifted and mercurial Tim Richmond, Bobby and Davey Allison, Alan Kulwicki, Darrell and Michael Waltrip, Richard Childress, and the Intimidator himself, Dale Earnhardt, to name but a few. What she expected was a world of big egos and macho posturing; what she discovered was a close-knit family with its roots firmly planted in America's heartland — a devoted brotherhood united by friendship, love, loss, and triumph.In what is perhaps the most extraordinary and revealing book ever written on the subject, Rich puts us behind the steering wheels of NASCAR's fastest machines and into the hearts and minds of those who drive them. We follow her into the high-tech garages and private jets and onto the tracks where legends are born ... and sometimes destroyed in the squeal of tires and chilling shriek of twisted metal.With her we share the agony of racing wives and experience the courageous culture of the NASCAR circuit. And we share her heartbreak on that dark day in Daytona when thousands witnessed the horrific crash that cost Dale Earnhardt, the Man in Black, his life.Along with Rich's vivid and enthralling first-person accounts, My Life in the Pits contains fascinating insights on racing and life from the cream of the NASCAR crop. It is the ultimate inside look at the world of professional speed, a book no fan should be without — an eye-opening, often hilarious, and always moving and unforgettable tribute to the people, the competition, and the unparalleled passion that makes this singular sport everything it is.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Rich, a sports marketing consultant and former journalist, has written an occasionally insightful but mostly superfluous tale of life within the inner sanctum of NASCAR. Stock-car racing, long considered the red-headed stepchild of American sport, has had a spectacular growth over the past 20 years, evolving from the Deep South moonshine trade that brought it to life into a multibillion-dollar nationwide phenomenon. Each time Rich begins to entice the reader with legitimate insight into the sport, she immediately compromises her argument by ducking behind one of three fronts: a somewhat snobbish and coquettish debutante attitude that belies the simple country girl shtick of much of the book; a dime-store display of feel-good pop psychology; and a dubious habit of painting an idyllic portrait of genteel Southern life unencumbered by issues such as race. Readers are told that NASCAR is the most popular sport in the U.S. but, considering its Southern origins, it seems a little odd that the circuit has fewer black participants than hockey. Unfortunately, Rich never attempts to interpret such anomalies, which is disappointing, especially because her introduction is a fabulous, funny tale of misconceptions about the sport and its fans that promises much more than the rest of the book delivers. Rich most certainly has a great NASCAR book in her this just isn't it. (May) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The vast popularity of NASCAR auto racing is giving abundant opportunity to authors who take a fresh approach to the sport. This original book is not directly about racing but about the author's experiences in racing and her relationships with racing people, which often gave inspiration and meaning to her life. Rich (What Southern Women Know) offers a unique perspective as a former sports reporter who gained the respect and close friendship of many NASCAR stars at a time when few women were a part of the sport's inner circleDeven though half of NASCAR's audience is female. The book consists mostly of brief stories, some humorous, some tragic, that illustrate life values Rich learned from some of the sport's legends, e.g., Bobby and Davey Allison, Dale Earnhardt, and Alan Kulwicki. This human-interest aspect is the book's ultimate appeal, adding dimension and character to individuals who are usually framed by their racing skills and triumphs. Rich shows a clear passion for the sport, and she offers many moving passages, particularly those dealing with the AIDS-related death of driver Tim Richmond. Sure to be appreciated by many NASCAR followers, this book is recommended for public libraries.DDavid Van de Streek, Pennsylvania State Univ. Libs., York Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An exuberant introduction to stock-car racing, from muffler bearings to personalities to track mystique, by former racing reporter and publicist Rich (What Southern Women Know, not reviewed). This overview of the NASCAR scene is underpinned by a wealth of personal stories, thanks to the fact that Rich has been a fixture at the tracks for nearly 20 years. She began as a reporter covering the old short tracks and witnessed the transition to the big motor speedways. She has lived to see a sport once treated with regal condescension rise to unrivaled popularity, and she has known the men (and the few women) who got it there. Rich traces the roots of stock-car racing back to the Deep South moonshiners outrunning the law with their contraband and then challenging each other as to who was the fastest. She is able to convey to readers the brains and strategy involved in this sport; winners, she reminds us, are rarely the guys with the biggest engines. Rich cut her teeth writing about Bill Elliott's exploits, and she grew immeasurably in her understanding at the feet of Alan Kulwicki. She excels at bringing to life the big players: Richard Petty, Bobby and Davey Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Tim Richmond, and other superstars. Rich has plenty of storytelling verve and insider's knowledge; she keeps her anecdotes short and sweet—or sad, for there is plenty to be sad about in speed-driven NASCAR. She stumbles only when doubling as an advice columnist, dishing out tired clichés like "it takes only one success to wipe out a thousand failures" and "always remember that somebody's money somewhere makes your livelihood possible." Even these, it should be noted, are of a piece with the direct, personal tone ofher prose throughout. Though NASCAR hardly needs any more fans, Rich's enthusiastic voice will likely draw an additional crowd of the curious to the track
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060005894
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/1/2002
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.27 (w) x 9.33 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

Ronda Rich
Ronda Rich

Ronda Rich is the bestselling author of What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should) (Penguin Putnam, 1999, LTD 150,000+), a national columnist ("Dixie Divas" runs weekly in 53 national and regional papers), and a Georgia Public Radio regular contributor. A former journalist and publicist for NASCAR, Ronda speaks at 100 venues per year and has appeared on The View, Fox’s Best Damn Sports Show, CNN, and many other national media venues.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



The Racing Expert Wears a Skirt



One recent Sunday afternoon, I climbed up on a stair machine at a gym and noticed that a NASCAR Winston Cup race was being shown on a television screen in front of the cardio platform. As I began to sweat through the rigors of my workout, I focused my full attention on the race, paying no attention to the baseball game or the golf event that were playing on the other sets."You don't like this kind of racing, do you?" asked a doctor who was exercising next to me. He grinned as if it were a stupid question, as if it wasn't possible for a woman like me — a white-collar professional, well-educated, traveled, and especially feminine — to like stock car racing. I have heard his tone of voice many times when the subject of NASCAR racing arises. It is one of regal condescension, the kind that seems to call for embarrassment, apology, denial, or defensive explanations. But I no longer explain or defend. For now I am part of an enormous audience in the world of sports. I am a NASCAR fan.I turned my attention from the television screen to look him squarely in the eye. "As a matter of fact," I replied coolly, with a confidence I had gained over the years, "NASCAR racing is my favorite sport."

His eyes bulged and his mouth dropped open, but he quickly recovered and assumed a "you're just kidding me" look. "No, it's not," he said, chuckling at either the ridiculousness of the idea or the fact that he had almost been taken in by my reply. Without a smile and without a word, I continued to look straight at him. With a quizzicalexpression, he tilted his head. "You're not serious, are you?"

"Dead serious. What's wrong with that?"

He began to stammer. "Uh, uh, nothing. I just wouldn't have ever taken you for a stock car fan, that's all. I just thought that was kind of a redneck sport."I knew the stereotype he had in mind; but before I could continue with a retort intended to increase his discomfort, a businessman on a treadmill behind us spoke up.

"I don't see how you get anything out of this," he interjected. "It's not interesting. All they do is go around in circles."

I smiled, more to myself than to them, remembering when I had once used those same words. That's the battle cry of all those ignorant about one of the world's most fascinating sports. I saw an opportunity to preach to the racing heathens, to convert two fans of other sports, to show them the intrigue and excitement produced by a NASCAR race.

"Oh, but it is interesting," I replied enthusiastically. "It's the strategy that makes it interesting."

Both the doctor and the businessman cast their eyes upward to the television screen and watched for a few moments.

"Why don't they all drive on the inside of the track?" the doctor asked. "Why do some of them race in the middle of the track and some up high?"

I laughed, but not because it was a stupid question; it was really a good observation from a racing neophyte. "That's where strategy comes in. Of course, you want to race on the inside of the corners because that's part of the shortest way around the track. If you'll notice, the cars running best are running the apex of the corner. They hug the inside of the track close as they go into the turns, then they bounce up higher to a certain point between the turns on the straightaways and then dive back to the inside for the next turns. If they stayed on the inside all the time, they'd stay on their brakes and lose horsepower and speed. When they bounce up on the straightaway, they can rev up rpms and increase speed. Occasionally, you'll find a track where the outside groove, up high on the track, is the fastest path. But the inside groove in the corner is usually the best because the shortest way is the quickest way."

"Hmmm," the doctor mused. "But why are some cars higher on the track than the ones leading?"

"That's part of the setup strategy," I continued. "You see, it isn't always the car with the best engine or best driver that wins. It's the car that handles best that has the edge, and it takes a lot of strategizing to produce the best car. The driver and crew have to figure out which shocks, springs, gear ratios, tire stagger, and such will help the car ‘handle' and take the best way around the track. A good-handling racecar is a fast car. If track conditions change during the race — for instance, because of a brief rainfall, cloud cover, hotter sun, or slicker track created from the rubber of the tires — that will affect the handling, and the strategy has to be improvised."

With amusement, I noted that their interest was piqued, and they began to watch more closely. There were thirty laps to go in the race and the cardio area fell quiet, except for clicking stair climbers, humming treadmills, and buzzing racecars.

"So the car's that leading now is gonna win, right?" someone asked. "There are only thirty laps to go."

"I'd love to see him win," I replied, referring to Dale Earnhardt Jr. "But I'm afraid he won't. The car's that's probably going to win is running fifth right now. Dale Jarrett."

The doctor shot me a skeptical look. "Now, how can you tell that?"

The camera was following the leader as he headed into a turn. "Watch. The back end of his car is a little loose. It's kicking out from under him just a little as he...

My Life in the Pits. Copyright © by Ronda Rich. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2003

    Great Read!

    I picked this book up and could not put it down! I read it in one day. The author gives such great insights into the minds of legends in stock car racing! The stories that fill this book add depth to people who most of us only see on television.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2003

    Very Inspiring!

    I got this book for Christmas and could not stop reading it. Just as someone else has already said, when you are done reading it, you will wish there was more. I am an aspiring motorsports public relations lady, and Ronda's book is hands-down the most insightful book about the "inside" of this sport that I have read. Her point of view is different from most writers, in a very refreshing way! If you are new to the sport, or a fan for life, this book will turn you on to the sport, or let you in on a special side of the lifestyle you already know and love. I want to thank Ronda for being so helpful to me, and sending some much needed advice my way. I would recommend this book to anyone that has ever wanted to experience "life in the pits."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2002

    Perfectly Terrific!!!

    This book was a delightful surprise. It wasn't what I was expecting --- it was much, much better. One of those books that you don't want to end. I found myself savoring each paragraph and trying to stretch it out to make it last. It is the most unusual book on NASCAR or any kind of sport that I have ever read. Yes, it's about NASCAR drivers and people in racing but it's much broader than that. The author writes from a personal standpoint of how she, as first a young sportswriter and later as a publicist on the circuit, was influenced by heroes of the sports like Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Bill Elliott, Darrell Waltrip and many more. The stories she tells show an entire new side to racing and its people. When I finished, I felt that I had been walking side by side with her as she encountered these extraordinary people and events. Be prepared --- she pulls at every emotion the reader could possibly have. I laughed --- it is extremely humorous and entertaining --- and a couple of times, I wiped tears from my eyes. It is rich with both anecdotes and emotions. I highly recommend it ---- whether or not you're a NASCAR fan, treat yourself to the experience of My Life In The Pits.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2002

    Must Read

    What a Great Book! I am a diehard NASCAR fan and I thought My Life in the Pits would be about just racing, but it is much more than that. It is about having the courage to follow your dreams. Ronda tells about the side of the drivers most of us never see. How big their hearts are and how much they do to help people down on their luck. Ronda's stories about the racing wives and the agony and heartaches they endure brought a tear to my eye and a new level of respect for them. She is a great storyteller and some of the hilarious stories had me rolling in laughter. Even if you are not a fan of NASCAR this is a must read book. I highly recommend it to both men and women of all ages.

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