I didn’t think anyone was reading this. But I totally got called out by my friends….so this is for Ballard and Krista
Driving with the Devil: Southern Moonshine, Detroit Wheels, and the Birth of NASCAR.
By Neal Thompson.
First off, I’m not a NASCAR fan. I don’t watch races, I’ve always been turned off by the ads plastered over the cars, drivers, pit crews, stands, tracks, and billboards. If it’s got a surface area it’s got a corporate sponsor. Plus, I don’t get a trill out of cars or driving fast.
Not my thing.
But I’m always interested in a good history, especially one that promises to include stories about moonshiners. Perhaps I was just feeling a little homesick, and looking for anything that might remind me of the south, in all it’s shades of delinquency.
Part one of the book, by far my favorite, focuses on the conception of stock car racing before NASCAR was even a twinkle in anyone’s eye. I’ll say that Thompson has done a great job putting a historical frame around the creation of the Model T, the history of Atlanta and the development of the moonshine country in the hills. The book is at it’s best when Thompson is describing the early heroes of stock car racing. He puts these good ole’ boys in the middle of great personal and dangerous rivalries between bootleggers and revenuers.
Great stuff. Death, love, money, booze….awesome.
Parts two and three get into the specifics of NASCAR’s creation and growth. And this is where I started to nod off. The story focused on new model cars, fancy mechanics, and the details of stock cars. I missed the greater context of the history that Thompson had done such a good job of before. I started to skip around looking for a few more good stories…not much. More boring car facts.
Ok, so my biggest problem with the book….. I loved the stories of folk heroes, rebels, carpetbaggers. I’m all about the back stabbing greedy friends. I’m hooked on the rivalries, double crosses, and shenanigans of part one, but Thompson is NOT a Southerner. Thompson writes from a very removed stance, like he’s presenting this history of a quaint foreign civilization. He’s charmed by these stories of yore and entertained by the antics of southerners. He’s written a great piece of history about the south, but he’s kept himself outside of the story. I know that his work as a journalist must inform how he writes, but I missed WHY he wanted to write it. I wanted him to admit a love of NASCAR, or of the south, or moonshine, or something. I wanted him to offer this piece of our history because of some insight into who we are as a nation, as spectators, consumers, people, fans. Not a history of the south as a romanticized, separate civilization.
Overall: Solid first 100-150 pages, give or take your view on non-southerners writing about the south. Skip the last half (unless you’re fascinated by NASCAR)