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"One Helluva Ride: How NASCAR Swept the Nation"

This article is more than 12 years old.
Did you ever wonder why auto racing is so massively popular?  Liz Clarke's new book One Helluva Ride examines where the sport came from, and how fans of NASCAR have become so passionately devoted.  Bill Littlefield reviews the book, and finds that there's more than meets the eye in the land of left turns.

This is a book for people who love watching auto races, certainly. It is full of stories of their heroes. But it is also a book for people who are mystified by the popularity of the sport. Liz Clarke tells NASCAR stories with energy and enthusiasm. She writes as if there’s nowhere she’d rather be than the track, and as if nobody could have better friends than the men about whom she writes. In short, she makes a case for the charms of a sport which might look like it’s just a lot of guys going fast and turning left in brightly painted cars. She has lots of material with which to work. NASCAR’s history can certainly be described as colorful. The first drivers supported themselves by running moonshine in the same cars they were racing. When Bill France “organized” their activity into a spectacle that would hugely benefit him, the drivers shrugged off the fact that France would have everything to gain and nothing to lose, while they would have everything to lose and precious little to gain. One of defining features of NASCAR is the passion the sport has inspired in its fans. In some cases, “worship” is more like it. People who root for particular drivers don’t just wear caps and t-shirts with that driver’s number on them; they have the driver’s image tattooed across their backs. And, by golly, they regard the sport as theirs, and theirs alone. When the Charlotte Observer conducted an on-line survey to see what NASCAR fans thought about the sport’s attempt to attract foreign drivers and a more diverse fan base, fifty four percent of the respondents checked the box marked “It’s wrong, and it troubles me,” while only seventeen percent marked “It’s great. Fresh talent might make for better racing.” Liz Clarke is a big fan of auto racing, but even she acknowledges that globalization won’t come easy to a sport built on that sort of bed rock.

This program aired on April 3, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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