No Fear: Ernie Irnan: The Nascar Driver's Story of Tragedy and Triumph


A premier racer in NASCAR history drives his way into readers' hearts with an inside story of his amazing recovery after a 1994 crash, his strong opinions of the racing world today, and a candid account of his personal life. of photos.
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A premier racer in NASCAR history drives his way into readers' hearts with an inside story of his amazing recovery after a 1994 crash, his strong opinions of the racing world today, and a candid account of his personal life. of photos.
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Editorial Reviews

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The Barnes & Noble Review
"Most of us don't dwell on dying. I didn't — not even the second before I hit the wall at 190 miles an hour. I never knew that morning I'd face death. Like most race car drivers, I have friends on and off the track who have died, but I don't think about death. Driving fast and living as well as I can is more important. I don't care much for hospitals, and I try to avoid funerals. When a fan or a reporter asks me about the dangers I face, I deny the sport is dangerous. To me, being a racer is no more risky than being a teacher, a pilot, or a construction worker walking a beam seventy stories high. Yeah, accidents happen, but not to me. They happen to the other guy. I was wrong." —Ernie Irvan, from No Fear

In 1994 Ernie Irvan was at the top of his NASCAR career. The winner of more than ten cup races, including the Daytona 500, Irvan was confident that 1994 would be the best season of his Winston Cup career. But he had no idea what he was about to face. While taking an extra practice lap before a race in Michigan, Irvan cut a tire and hurtled into a concrete wall at speeds in excess of 190 miles an hour. He trashed his car and seriously damaged his body: Irvan came out of the accident with a collapsed lung, fractures at the base of his skull, and a bruised brain, and he spent three days in a coma. He had a 10 percent chance of survival.

In his new book, No Fear, Irvan recounts in detail how he not only survived this devastating crash but also triumphantly returned to NASCAR, winning the Miller 400 on the same track on which he sustained his near-fatalinjuriesonly three years earlier. Irvan shares the anguish his wife, Kim, had to face; the aneurysm that caused him to endure double vision and forced him to race with a patch covering his left eye; and the determination that led to an amazing recovery and his return to racing.

Starting with Irvan's introduction to racing at age five, No Fear traces the most dramatic and inspiring story ever to come out of the dangerous and thrilling world of NASCAR. The son of two racing enthusiasts (his father was an amateur racer with more than 100 wins, and his mother competed as well), Irvan was groomed at an early age to be a stock-car racer. By age eight, he was racing dune buggies in California, and his father was teaching him the importance of maintaining a machine. As a teenager, Irvan raced stock cars and worked with such personalities as the all-or-nothing racer and car builder Ivan Baldwin.

No Fear then describes how Irvan got his break in competition, which came in 1987 when Dale Earnhardt sponsored Irvan's first Winston Cup. Soon after, he was asked to drive for independent driver D. K. Ulrich, an offer that boosted his professional career. Irvan's career gained further momentum after he was asked to drive for his first well-funded team, Morgan-McClure.

In No Fear Irvan shares many other highs and lows in his life, including:

  • Divorce from his first wife, followed by the painful discovery that the two sons he had raised as his own were not his but those of another man with whom his ex-wife had been involved.
  • His exhilarating but nerve-racking win at the Daytona 500, when he almost ran out of fuel crossing the finish line.
  • The tragic death of NASCAR driver Davey Allison, with whom he had had a fierce rivalry, and the twist of fate that resulted in Irvan replacing Allison on the Ford team and driving his car.
From Irvan's rise to become a top NASCAR driver to his devastating accident to his race to the top again, No Fear is an unforgettable memoir that is as fast-paced as the man who wrote it. For the millions of NASCAR fans and anyone who appreciates sheer tenacity and courage, No Fear is a thrilling, emotional, and death-defying ride. Please join us as we welcome Ernie Irvan to the Auditorium to chat about his riveting new book, No Fear.
Library Journal
Irvan is one of the higher-profile drivers in NASCAR's Winston Cup racing series. Once known for his aggressive driving style, he is more recently remembered for a successful return to racing after a near-fatal accident. This autobiography is mostly a recounting of his career and experiences in racing, using his 1994 crash as a springboard. Many interesting stories and bits of information reveal some of the hidden aspects of NASCAR racing and also show something of Irvan's character, his determination and competitiveness, which he credits with his survival and his success. Written in a vernacular style, the book is fast paced and reads easily. At times, though, it has an uneven quality, with abrupt transitions in thought and details seemingly out of place or not provided. But no matter; NASCAR racing has a large fan base, and fans should appreciate Irvan's story and his thoughts. Appropriate for public libraries.
— David B. Van De Streek, Pennsylvania State University Libraries, York
— Paula Dempsey, DePaul University Library, Chicago
— Paula Dempsey, DePaul University Library, Chicago
Kirkus Reviews
A stock-car racing hero who came back from horrible injuries sullies his image somewhat in this thinly veiled screed against them what wronged him. In the early 1990s, Irvan (please don't call him "Swervin"), was one of the hottest pilots on the NASCAR circuit. Winner of the 1991 Daytona 500, stock-car racing's premier event, and a regular challenger for the season championship, Irvan earned a reputation as a hard charger, a reputation, as it happens, that had as many negative connotations as positive ones. Going into 1994, Irvan was on top of the sport: the hottest driver racing for one of the best teams, Robert Yates's Texaco-sponsored Ford. During that season, however, Ernie hit the wall, literally and figuratively, slamming into a concrete barrier at 190 mph during a practice session. The tremendous force of the impact shattered his body, nearly blinding him in one eye. Two years later, wearing an eye patch, Ernie got back behind the wheel and since then, he's resumed his winning ways. If only this perseverance against adversity were the focus of the book.

Alas, too often, Irvan launches into rants: against Yates, who jerked him around during contract renegotiations after the 1997 season; against Texaco, for misconstruing his failure to mention them at an awards banquet as an unforgivable slight; against other drivers and the media, who criticized his recklessness. While Irvan's fault-finding fills relatively few pages, it sets the tone for the rest of the book. This is a pity, because seemingly lost amid the rancor is the fact the Irvan is a plainspoken individual, who waxes philosophical about his injuries (the inevitable downside to good fortune, he reasons), is heartfelt in his descriptions of NASCAR colleagues, and is sincere in his grief over friends who have died while on the circuit. (Co-author Golenbock is the author of Cowboys Have Always Been My Heroes: The Definitive Oral History of America's Team, 1997.)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786864430
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • Publication date: 2/24/1999
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Interviews & Essays

On Monday, March 22nd, welcomed Ernie Irvan to discuss NO FEAR.

Moderator: Welcome, Ernie Irvan! Thank you for taking the time to join us online tonight. How are you doing this evening?

Ernie Irvan: I am doing really good.

Ian Rhodes from What inspired you to write this book?

Ernie Irvan: I really think that a lot of people didn't know a lot about me, and I felt like throughout my accident and all the things that have been around my career, there are a lot of unanswered questions. I thought there was a human interest story, and it was something I felt I needed to talk about.

Dan Smith from Franklin, TN: Ernie, I read that you and Mark Martin were/are great friends and that he was with you frequently while you were in the hospital. Is that friendship still strong? Did your changing from Ford to GM dampen any friendships? Who would you consider as your best friend in the NASCAR family now?

Ernie Irvan: For sure, myself and Mr. Martin are really good friends, and it really didn't change when I went from Ford to GM. I really like Mark, and he is my best friend in motor sports. He is a great driver and a great friend.

Connie Lewings from Raleigh, NC: What to you was the most difficult part about making your comeback? Also, do you ever have flashbacks to that terrible day?

Ernie Irvan: No, I don't really have flashbacks about that day, because I don't remember anything about that day. I just remember it when we talk about it and write it, but I don't remember the specifics of that day at all. That is a good thing. No, there are no flashbacks. Probably the most difficult part was getting back into tune with what we have to do being race car drivers. There are many responsibilities, and that was the hardest part.

Daniel from New Orleans, LA: Can anybody beat Jeff Gordon?

Ernie Irvan: Well, obviously he is a very tough competitor, and right now I don't think anybody will beat him consistently. He will win his probably seven to ten races this year, and he will be the predominant force in NASCAR.

Pete from Long Island City, NY: Do you think your racing is back to what it was like prior to the accident?

Ernie Irvan: That for sure is a question I don't know if we will ever have a positive answer for. In a lot of ways I feel I am as good or better, but I just know there is no way to really tell that for sure.

Andy from Allentown, PA: What are your thoughts on all these hot rookies entering the sport?

Ernie Irvan: Obviously, there are a lot of great race car drivers that are starting to become competitors in the Busch series and Winston Cup. There is nothing better than good competition, and it is something that is very tough, but very fun.

Steve from Cedar Rapids, IA: Generally speaking, do you like the direction NASCAR is heading in?

Ernie Irvan: I think that NASCAR is doing very well with the growth of the sport. It is hard to believe. Eleven years ago, when I started, I didn't realize that the growth was going to be so big. It is good for my career and everybody else's.

Paul from New York City: Are you close with many of the other NASCAR drivers? Do you think there is a certain closeness among drivers, or are they too competitive to be friendly outside of racing?

Ernie Irvan: Myself and Mark Martin are good friends. You definitely become friends with most or all of the competitors, but you only can get so close. They are trying to win, and so are we.

Shane from Houston, TX: What do you see yourself doing after your racing career comes to an end? Also, will you be racing anytime soon? Shame about the weather and this past weekend....

Ernie Irvan: When I retire from driving a Winston Cup car, I am probably going to try to be some sort of car owner. I want to stay involved in the sport. It is a great sport, and I have a one-year-old son, and maybe I might watch him carry on the Irvan name.

Bryan Leopold from Bloomfield, MI: Hello, Ernie! I have been a fan for quite some time. I don't have a question, more a congratulations for your stunning comeback. I remember your accident like it happened yesterday, and I prayed for you, and my prayers I guess have been answered. Good luck with everything, and hopefully we will see you winning the Daytona yet again.

Ernie Irvan: Thank you, and definitely the support that I had throughout my career and fans like you make it all worthwhile.

Olli from Marlboro, MA: Where you a big go-cart racer when you were a kid?

Ernie Irvan: Definitely. When I was 8-16 I raced go-carts throughout the U.S., and that is a great sport to try to become a good race car driver.

Seth from New York City: Ernie -- There are a lot of famous families in NASCAR. Will we see any of the younger Irvans behind the wheel of a race car in the future? Good luck next week!

Ernie Irvan: My son is only one, so obviously it will be a long time until he can carry on the Irvan name. If he wants to be a racer, I will support him, but if he wants to become a doctor, I will do everything to help support that.

Niki from What is a typical day in the life of Ernie Irvan like?

Ernie Irvan: We don't have enough time to tell about a typical day. However, today I took my daughter to school at 7:30, then I worked out for two hours, then after that I was down with the race team that I am a part owner in -- which races this week for the first time. I made sure everything was fine, then had lunch with those guys, then met with my crew chief this afternoon. Then I found some time to do some construction work that I have been meaning to do. Then I came home and did the honeydew stuff like my wife likes me to do.

John from How do you think the sport of car racing has changed since you have been on the circuit?

Ernie Irvan: It hasn't changed a lot. It got bigger and more popular, and it is amazing how many people follow Winston Cup racing compared to ten years ago. That is good for the growth of the sport.

Tina from Dover, NJ: Welcome, Ernie ! Big fan long time way back from the Kodak days.... Got your book yesterday and couldn't put it down, finished in like three hours.... I followed your injury and wrote you, and even received a picture card and thanks from you.... I cherish it.... My question: Aside from the accident, what is your most memorable experience in racing? And don't say winning the Daytona 500.... It was one of my most exciting wins for you. Thanks! And this!

Ernie Irvan: My most memorable part of Winston Cup racing is the day I was able to start racing again. It was the first time I got to drive a Winston Cup car after my accident. That day will go a long way. I feel really good about that day.

Mike from New York: Ernie, do you ever find yourself driving less aggressively in the days since your '94 crash? And how do you manage not to let thoughts of the crash overwhelm you while racing?

Ernie Irvan: I find myself driving smarter each week. I think that being a veteran race car driver like I am now, you find yourself not taking the chances. I always live under the philosophy that to win you must first finish, and I try to drive like that every day.

Sloy Nichols from Salem, OR: Ernie, I've been a fan of yours since the Kodak #4 days. your driving style caught my eye long before I knew who you were. That driver's meeting where you said those thoughtful words: "Your respect is important to me" -- I guess I want to know, do the other drivers respect you/your driving style?

Ernie Irvan: I think that the other drivers and the drivers in that meeting definitely took what I said and said OK, now we want to make sure that you mean what you said. I felt like that my actions were going to have to speak for themselves. It was a turning point in my career, and I don't know if I would have been able to stay in Winston Cup racing if I hadn't made a change.

Denise from Ernie -- Do you think you will still be with M&M's next year?

Ernie Irvan: Definitely! We are right in the process of signing the contract extension. M&M's is a great sponsor -- the best I ever had in Winston Cup racing.

Susan Beverly from Pensacola, FL: Hi, Ernie Irvan from Florida! My nephews are big fans of yours! Me and my husband attended our first NASCAR race in Talladega in October. We were sorry to see you crash but are looking forward to going again this year and looking for you to win! You've earned it!

Ernie Irvan: I will definitely be there. I think it is in May. I look forward to going back. I have won quite a few races there, and I feel good with the M&M's Pontiac.

Lenea from New Jersey at Which is tougher for you, writing a book or racing a car? Thanks.

Ernie Irvan: Writing a book was definitely tough, just being able to be a part of the book. There were a lot of details that had to be worked out to tell a story that somebody would like to hear about and to be able to put it all in the right order. It was definitely very tough, but that is not the normal thing I do in life.

Martin from Nashville, TN: What would you consider your personal career highlights? I think I can guess your professional low point....

Ernie Irvan: Obviously, being able to get back to Winston Cup racing. I definitely thought that winning the Daytona 500 was big, but the first win I had at Bristol was one of the biggest things that I have ever done.

Dennison from Bastrop, LA: Good evening, Mr. Irvan. Are you happy with your current race team? Just curious. Also, what to you are the necessary qualities that make a good race team?

Ernie Irvan: I am very happy with the M&M's team. I think that it has a lot of potential, and I feel like we are starting to make improvements and winning is just down the road. Obviously, the people that are involved in a race team are what make it good quality. Also having a good sponsor. I like M&M's because 99 percent of Americans have tried M&M's, and if they haven't they will shortly.

Martha D. from Morgan, WV: Good evening, Ernie. Do you have a favorite car?

Ernie Irvan: I don't. At one time I had a favorite car when I drove the Texaco car, but since I have been driving the M&M's Pontiac, I don't have a favorite one. I guess I will have a favorite one when I win in one.

Lois from New York City: Why do you think NASCAR fans are so passionate about the sport?

Ernie Irvan: I think that the fans are so passionate about the sport because the drivers are just everyday people. The sponsors are something that you can go to the store and buy. It is not really having to pull or cheer for a whole team. The thing that makes it so attractive is that they can reach out and actually touch the competitors, and that makes it very unique.

Toni from Seattle, WA: Hi, Ernie. How did you get into racing?

Ernie Irvan: Toni, if you would read my book it tells the whole story of how I got involved with racing. It gives in detail how I did that.

Seth from New York City: Hey, Ernie -- What type of car do you drive when you're not going 170 mph?

Ernie Irvan: Well, I have quite a few cars that I drive. I have two Suburbans, but the one car that nobody realizes that it is me in is a '99 VW Bug, and that is what I drive most of the time.

Aaron from Minnesota: Hi, Ernie. I wanted to ask you if after what happened at Michigan when you were hurt so badly, was there ever a moment that you doubted yourself after you got back behind the wheel? Were you ever afraid to hang it all out again right away?

Ernie Irvan: Definitely, there were some times that I didn't know if I was going to ever drive a Winston Cup car competitively again. But as I talk about in my book, though there was some doubt, there was a need to get out there and try to prove my thoughts wrong. I really felt that I was very capable of driving a race car and driving it competitively. I just had to get out there and do it.

Paul from What advice would you give to aspiring racers? Also, did you ever go to racing camp? Who taught you? Do you go into this in your new book?

Ernie Irvan: I go into this in my book. I go into quite a bit about what inspired me. But again, most of what inspired me was that my dad was a racer, and I followed in his footsteps. As far as going to a racing camp, I have never gone. There are times that I go to test to better my skills.

Amber from Hiya, Ernie. In your book -- by the way, I was crying through the first pages -- you mention how Texaco "snubbed" you for accidentally leaving their name out of the "Thank You's".... Do you feel that they pressured Robert Yates into "letting you go"? Or was it more of Mr. Yates being unable to handle the two teams? Thanks, and keep on runnin'!

Ernie Irvan: Thank you for buying my book. I don't know exactly, there is no doubt that there was some pressure from the sponsor. But I also think there was some pressure from Mr. Yates as well.

Sloy Nichols from Salem, OR: I read about your dad looking up "hotrods" on the Internet. He appears to have been the coolest source for car parts...let the guys go in and browse. Is he still your spotter, and did he also race cars?

Ernie Irvan: My dad used to race for a living. He is not my spotter anymore. There is no doubt that my dad's business is a major part of Winston Cup racing.

Mike from New York: Ernie, how much faster do you think we can expect NASCAR racers to go in the coming years? Is the sky the limit?

Ernie Irvan: The sky is not the limit, because sooner or later we will start getting airborne, and we can't do that. The sport gets more competitive each month, and I think the potential for going to a race track at Darlington and going ten miles an hour faster -- I don't know if that will ever happen. But I know when they built that track they never thought we would go as fast as we are going now. It is a tough question for me to answer and for me to know that I am answering right.

Denise from Pottstown, PA, at How do plan on beating Gordon?

Ernie Irvan: I am not real sure how I am going to beat him. Again, there are 42 other competitors out there that I have to outrun. Gordon is just one of them.

Elke from Do you have any plans yet for New Year's Eve, 1999? We're taking a poll among all of our guests. Thanks!

Ernie Irvan: I don't have any plans yet. I know that we usually have a party here at my house, but I really think that we need to do something special to bring in the new century.

Toni from New York City: Ernie -- What's it like driving for one team but owning your own team with someone else driving for you?

Ernie Irvan: It is an experience. Obviously, when you are an owner and someone else is driving for you, you don't think they are doing it well enough. When you are a Winston Cup driver you definitely have high expectations with anybody that is driving for you, and it is a tough situation, but with the way the sport has been growing it is a good situation.

Moderator: Thanks so much for joining us this evening, Mr. Irvan. Best of luck with NO FEAR. Do you have any final words for the online audience?

Ernie Irvan: I really appreciate everybody that has bought my book, and I know that if you tell your friends about it and they read it (if they are true NASCAR fans), they will learn a lot more about Winston Cup racing and a lot more about Ernie Irvan. I really appreciate what the fans have done for my career and what they have done for Winston Cup NASCAR racing. Good night.

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