Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Driving with the Devil (copy)

Last week’s Daytona 500 was the most exciting in years. The two leads took themselves out of the race after 130 laps. Harvick’s photo-finish win against Martin was an incredible 0.02 difference. To top off the excitement, we watched agog as eighteenth place Bowyer crossed the finish line—upside down and on fire.

Can you believe stock car racing heralds back to straight-aways on a Daytona Beach? That is right; before we southerners had an oval, we had a hard packed beach at low tide. Someone had the brilliant idea to connect the parallel A1A Highway by cutting slanted curves through the dunes. This new course promised obstacles such as rogue waves and mud at the bottom of the curves.

The official stock car track, roots itself in a forlorn horseracing track at Lakewood, Georgia, not in Indianapolis. Indianapolis might have had the honor if they had not been so haughty. Indianapolis racing began in 1903 with cars made especially for the track. The officials frowned on the new V-8s and outlawed “whiskey trippers” from the track.

Most racers came from the foothills in northeast Georgia, Dawsonville to be exact. Daytona was too far to drive. These bootleggers lined up every weekend at Lakewood to show off police avoiding skills on the red-dirt track with a lake in the middle. For a mere fifty cents, one could lace their fingers in the chicken wire and feel the throaty Ford V-8s as they fought it out for a hundred dollar purse.

Neal Thompson, author of Driving with the Devil, has written about an exciting time in our southern history. He says most of the accolades go to Bill France, but that would be an injustice to the first promoter and original racer, Raymond Parks. In 2003, Thompson traveled to Parks’ home and interviewed the ninety-one-year-old legend.

In this book, the “real” story is told through first-hand accounts. The reader meets Parks’ superstar, bootleg-team, Roy Hall and Lloyd Seay, as they achieve certain notoriety for their two-wheel passes in the Daytona curves; and crusty mechanic, Red Vogt explains, “Money equals speed.”

Do not miss this book if you care anything about NASCAR. Each chapter packs interesting information and history. I found the race coverage to be like another notorious book, Seabiscuit. Ew, I can’t wait to try the 180 degree maneuver bootleggers used to evade the police.