With these cooler fall days and nights, sometimes curling up with a good book is just the ticket to a good time. Whether you’re a newer fan or a veteran, there are many great racing-themed books to choose from. With the possible exception of those by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart, you might have missed these titles. Some racing books are better then others, and some are must-reads. Here’s my list of NASCAR books you must read – the best of the best the library has to offer.
A Little Bit Sideways by Scott Huler This book should be required reading for every race fan. The book spends one week inside a then-Winston Cup race team from Martinsville to Charlotte in the fall of 1997. The team is the long-defunct Filmar Racing outfit, and some of the procedures are outdated – qualifying is one example. Still, the book captures perfectly the struggles of a small team trying to compete with the giants during the years that would prove to be the end of the line for single-car teams. From the sinking feeling of wondering if the team will make the show at Charlotte to the many individuals it takes to run a Cup team, this book is a winner. If you don’t have a little more respect for the small teams after this book, you need to see a doctor – he needs to check you for a heart.
Second To None by Rick Houston This is THE book about NASCAR’s second series. The book chronicles the Busch (now Nationwide) Series from the inception of its current incarnation in 1982 through the 2000 season. It includes a description of each season’s highlights and lowlights, rising stars and wily veterans. Some of the drivers are the best racers you might not know about, and some have gone on to lucrative Cup careers. The photographs are alternately fun and stunning – think very young stars and breathtaking on-track action in pictures. Each chapter covers just one season, each with its own title, like “My Kid Brother Can Beat Your Kid Brother” and “What Hard Feelings?” It’s a peek at what the ailing series once stood for and the people who made it great.
Driver #8 by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and True Speed by Tony Stewart Sure, there are plenty of driver biographies out there to choose from, but these two are the best. Driver #8 chronicles Earnhardt’s rookie season from Daytona until Speedweeks one year later. It’s honest – some parts almost too much so – and parts are roll-on-the-floor funny. It’s a testament to Earnhardt’s considerable writing talent that co-writer Jade Gurss spoke of how little major editing work he had to do. Stewart is also brutally honest about everything from his childhood to a sprint car career (and at least one accident that didn’t involve the racecar) to his IRL championship and finally Stewart’s brilliant NASCAR career. Neither Earnhardt not Stewart holds back much, and that makes for gritty and telling reality.
Wheels by Paul Hemphill This is another older book that is well worth finding. Part chronicle of the 1996 Winston Cup season, part history, part come-here-and-let-me-tell-you-a-story, the book weaves words into pictures of a season of racing-from the front offices to the shops to the track. This book is well constructed and will make you wonder how things have changed so much in just a dozen years.
Inside Herman’s World by Kenny Wallace and Joyce Standridge Another driver biography well worth the purchase price. Wallace is another driver unafraid to be completely upfront about things. In true Kenny Wallace fashion, some of the stories are absolutely hilarious. The ice cream story alone is worth the cost of the book. Other stories are much more serious, but all of them – and the photos, some of which come from family collections – have that distinct Wallace voice to them. If you order a copy from Wallace’s fan club instead of direct from the publisher, he’ll autograph it first. This one is a nice reminder that NASCAR is sill a family sport at heart.
St. Dale and Once Around the Track by Sharyn McCrumb Most NASCAR fiction is fluff at best, and while the stories in these two are a little toward the chick flick end of the spectrum, the writing is superb and the stories, fluff aside, are page-turners. St. Dale follows an eclectic group of race fans mourning the loss of Dale Earnhardt on a bus tour of Dale’s best tracks. Each person ultimately finds something unexpected on that inauspicious bus trip, and the story will warm all but the crustiest heart. Once around the track follows a start-up, all-female (except the driver anyway) race team trying to beat enormous odds to win on the Cup circuit. Together with enigmatic driver Badger Jenkins (who is in part modeled on Ward Burton, with some other unique qualities tossed in for good measure), the team lives a dream, but the ultimate price could prove to be too much. McCrumb is outstanding at capturing words on paper, and either of these two novels is a winner.
If I tried to list every book I’ve enjoyed about racing, well, we’d both be here all night. These eight books are the cream of the crop, though, and every fan should find something to satisfy any taste. A few might take a little searching to find, but most can be sought out online and many are available used for very low prices. Start your (search) engines and track a few of them down.