Thompson (Light This Candle) focuses on the early history of NASCAR racing. Unlike other writers on the subject, however, he delves into the pre-World War II roots of the sport-the beginnings of true "`stock car" racing-and finds older drivers still alive to tell their stories. He also outlines the development of the organization that structured freelance competitive racing events into a sanctioned sport, one much safer for both driver and spectator. In the portraits that emerge here, Thompson mines the rich heritage of Southern culture and mixes macho adventurists, speed, grim determination, and the automobile, capturing not only the regional appeal of the sport, but also the tenor of the times. The book ends where most other histories begin: in the 1950s, as the sport finally organized itself into a going concern. This is recommended as a revealing look at the oldest history of what has grown to be a multi-billion-dollar industry and the second most popular spectator sport in the country.-Eric C. Shoaf, Brown Univ. Lib., Providence Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Setting his sights on the NASCAR phenomenon, Thompson (Light This Candle, 2004) focuses on the sordid origins of the sport, this country's second most popular, behind only football. It's a provocative premise. As the author reminds us, stock-car racing was invented by moonshiners who first conceived of souping up Ford V-8s in order to elude Prohibition-era law-enforcers as they hauled corn whiskey from mountain stills in the hills of northern Georgia down into the cities of the deeper South. Dodging hairpin curves and wily cops, these moonshiners, in Thompson's view, exemplify American ingenuity and self-reliance, qualities he suggests continue to make NASCAR so extremely widespread. Controversial NASCAR founder Bill France worked hard to distance the sport from its shady origins, striving to organize and legitimize a pastime seen as low-class, criminal and distinctly Southern. Recounting those disjointed early efforts, the author warmly reveals his admiration for pioneer drivers such as Lloyd Seay, Roy Hall and Red Byron, mechanic Red Vogt and, above all, for the races themselves. Unfortunately, Thompson's transparent affection for his subjects prevents him from objectively assessing NASCAR's legend-enshrouded figures. He displays all the skill of a seasoned journalist in his pacing and savvy storytelling, but his awestruck worship of his subjects, voiced in purplish prose, betrays a "homer" mindset. Swept up in the frenzy of the adrenaline-charged races he narrates, the author often interpolates thoughts and emotions to which he cannot be privy. This is a shame, because his grasp of the sport's history is abundant and presentation of anecdotes exceedingly interesting. Reverentialattitude at odds with its gritty premise-but all of which NASCAR fans will lap up.
"Thompson exhumes the sport's Prohibition-era roots in this colorful, meticulously detailed history."
“Here’s the real story, not just of NASCAR, but of the new South that emerged from moonshine and speed.”
—Richard Ben Cramer, author of Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life and editor of The Best American Sports Writing 2004
“Neal Thompson has written NASCAR’s Glory of Their Times. He tells the true story of NASCAR’s beginnings, revealing the sport’s strong whiskey roots and letting us get to know its key movers and shakers, including the triumvirate of racer Red Byron, mechanic Red Vogt, and bootlegger car owner Raymond Parks. Like Seabiscuit, Thompson makes a sport and an era come wonderfully alive.”
—Peter Golenbock, author of Miracle: Bobby Allison and the Saga of the Alabama Gang and American Zoom: Stock Car Racing—From Dirt Tracks to Daytona
“Driving with the Devil is a full-tilt excursion through the back roads of NASCAR’s past, when moonshiners and scofflaws pioneered the sport. This is a tale that sanitized corporate NASCAR would rather forget about, but with Neal Thompson at the wheel, it makes for wonderful reading.”
—Sharyn McCrumb, author of St. Dale
“Driving with the Devil is a treasure trove of historically relevant information that tracks the history of the American automobile industry, the culture and morality of the broader society, and the motivations and personalities of early stock-car-racing operatives. All of which have inexorably contributed to the foundation and fabric of NASCAR’s brand of stock-car racing as it manifests itself today.”
—Jack Roush, chairman of Roush Racing
“Driving with the Devil is a most impressive piece of work. Most Americans have the vague notion that big-time stock-car racing sprang from moonshine-hauling in the southern Appalachians prior to the Second World War, but here is documented proof that it was that and much more. Neal Thompson’s Driving with the Devil nails it once and for all: a riveting report any student of Americana will cherish. It’s no more about racing than The Old Man and the Sea is about fishing.”
—Paul Hemphill, author of Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams and Wheels: A Season on NASCAR’s Winston Cup Circuit
"A fascinating and fast-moving account of NASCAR's fledgling days."
–Atlanta Journal Constitution
"There are more divorces, drunks and wrecks than you can shake a checkered flag at...A thoroughly researched account of a 'simpler time' in a sport that has since become a multi-billion dollar business."
–NBC News anchor Brian Williams, in the Wall Street Journal