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Driving with the Devil: Southern Moonshine, Detroit Wheels, and the Birth of NASCAR Hardcover – October 3, 2006

4.7 out of 5 stars 90 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Thompson's raucous account of NASCAR's early decades raises from obscurity the "motherless, dirt-poor southern teens... in jacked-up Fords full of corn whiskey" who originated the sport that's now the second most popular in America. Stock car racing grew up in the 1930s South, when moonshine runners, having perfected the art of daredevil driving while escaping "revenuers" hunting for untaxed whiskey, transferred their skills to the event booming in Atlanta and Daytona Beach. Loosely defined as races where the cars were totally unmodified—even though they were actually supercharged beyond recognition—stock car racing was a rawer, more redneck endeavor than AAA-sanctioned events like the Indy 500, which were the realm of rich enthusiasts driving specially built vehicles. Thompson (Light This Candle: The Life and Times of Alan Shepard) celebrates entrepreneurial ex-con Raymond Parks, wizardish mechanic Red Vogt and driver Red Byron instead of the better-known promoter Bill France, "the P.T. Barnum of stock car racing," whom Thompson blames for moving NASCAR from its whiskey-soaked past to mainstream, logo-strewn present. The author is clearly in love with his subject, and the enthusiasm of this breathless, nostalgic account will be contagious to Southern history buffs and historically minded NASCAR fans. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

This is a colorful, multifaceted history of the hell-raising origins of stock-car racing in the 1930s and 1940s. Thompson fastens onto what might be considered the original stock-car racing team, an Atlanta-based trio--Raymond Parks, Red Vogt, and Lloyd Seay--who worked in the moonshine business, which depended on fast cars for escapes from lawmen. Recounting their biographies, and those of a host of bootlegging competitors, Thompson instills the outlaw milieu--Seay, the 1941 stock-car champ, was murdered in a bootlegging dispute--of the early days. Ad-hoc races, such as one held on a beach in Daytona, Florida, developed into regular events; its impresario, Bill France, disdained the bootleggers from Georgia and eventually outmaneuvered Parks and Vogt to control NASCAR when it was organized in 1947. Thompson believes that the modern NASCAR organization downplays its beginnings in white lightning. His fascinating corrective should inveigle the fans of one of the most popular sports in America today. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1st edition (October 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400082250
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400082254
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (90 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #460,687 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Neal specializes in narrative nonfiction, biography, and overlooked Americana. His fourth book, A CURIOUS MAN, chronicles the hard-to-believe life of the eccentric world-traveling cartoonist, media pioneer, millionaire-celebrity-playboy Robert 'Believe It or Not' Ripley, considered to be the godfather of reality TV. David Shields says A Curious Man "constructs an elegant argument: the world Ripley created is the world in which we now live", and Ben Fountain says "anyone who wants to understand America needs to read this book."

A former journalist, Neal has worked at the Philadelphia Inquirer, the St. Petersburg Times, and the Baltimore Sun, and has written for Outside, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Men's Health. He and his books have been featured on NPR, ESPN, the History Channel, Fox, and TNT. Neal lives in Seattle with his wife and two skateboarding sons. Since 2011 he has worked as an editor, reviewer and interviewer on the books team at Amazon.com, where he oversees the Best Books of the Month program (amazon.com/bestbooks).

Says Neal: "As an obsessive reader and writer, I've devoted my career to storytelling and the written word and, more recently, to championing great books and talented writers. While I'm passionate about my own stories, I'm equally inspired to support the works of other authors."

See Neal's stories and interviews at Omnivoracious.com/neal_thompson.html, and his reviews at Amazon.com/nealthompson. See reviews of Neal's books, as well as excerpts, photos, videos, and dozens of author interviews at NealThompson.com

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Two years ago I'd never been to a race. Now I've attended four and watch every weekend. Picked this book up in order to feed my now voracious appetite for all things racing. Guess what...it filled me in on the less well-known formative years of stock car racing. For those who think the France family created stock car racing and NASCAR as well and are unwilling to bend from that view, then this book will likely upset them. On the other hand, if you're open-minded and willing to question the so-called accepted theory of NASCAR's creation being soley by Big Bill and want to know more about the shine runners who helped make the sport popular, then you'll find this book immensely entertaining. Thoroughly enjoyed the book, and felt educated, enlightened, and entertained all at the same time.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What mystifies me is that I am not a racing fan in the least but this book seemed to call to me from the library shelf. As a new resident of Georgia, coming from NY, I felt that I needed to do the "when in Rome..." thing and soldier through the book. No need to labor, as it had me in its grip from the first page. It answered all my questions about all things southern, with a vivid description of life here in the last century as well as an unbelievably human story of the men who made moonshine and how their driving skills translated well into car racing at the outset of the stock car boom. It also introduced me to a unique man, a former master bootlegger named Raymond Parks, who, while not generally a race car driver, was as responsible as anyone for NASCAR being in existence today. His deep pockets kept many drivers racing and his mechanic, a genius named Red Vogt, actually came up with the name NASCAR. That Bill France used legal maneuvering to claim the NASCAR brand for himself and his family doesnt diminish what Raymond Parks did for the sport, and even for France himself who often found himself in need of financial help from the former moonshine baron Parks. Highly highly recommended for anyone who likes a good tale well told.

A footnote--Raymond Parks still lives and works in Atlanta, owning , fittingly, a liquor store on Northside Drive. He is 93 yrs old. I stopped in to say hello the other day, and he was courteous and happy to show me all of his wonderful NASCAR and racing mementos. While slowed by age and possibly early alzheimers, he was a gentleman and I enjoyed my chat with him. Red Vogt's garage on Spring St, where the name NASCAR was coined, is still standing but is now an urban music shop. The garage door was open though, and I could see inside to where Red worked his miracles on the early Ford engines.
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Format: Hardcover
Being a novice to Nascar I have been reading everything I can get my hands. This book, "Driving with the Devil" is "straight up". It gives so much more insight to the beginnings of Nascar than any other book I have read. Some things I didn't even know & some things surprised me, it put together pieces of my own heritage. Amazing book, I recommend it highly.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a very well-documented history of the roots of NASCAR, illuminating well- and not-so-well-known facts about its moonshining roots, pioneers in its development and the autocratic role of Bill France. While I enjoyed the story, I felt that this was a book in search of a good editor. There's a lot of repetition -- the same facts told in one place are repeated in another, while some paragraphs begin in exactly the same way, on the same page; all of which got in the way of the story, at least in my opinion. Also, some of Thompson's vernacular was incongruous with the overall tone of his narrative. I found myself editing the book while I read it, which, unfortunately, resulted in a few bumps in what should have been a relatively smoother ride. This being said, it's still a comprehensive and well-researched history of America's fastest-growing sport and, for the most part, very readable.
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Format: Hardcover
I have never really watched more than 10 minutes of a NASCAR race; despite this. I really enjoyed this book. Based on hundreds of original interviews, the author weaves an engrossing tale of moon-shiners, swindles, and daredevils who turned a weekend hobby into a billion dollar industry.

The author tells a good story and includes just enough technical car talk to keep it authentic, without becoming a book for gear heads. The author does not rush through the book and it is not a quick read. He carefully and slowly builds the story.

I tried watching NASCAR after reading the book, and it made me long for the old days of dirt tracks, fist-fights, and $500.00 racing budgets. I would love to see today's NASCAR stars race on dirt...
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a 30+ year fan of NASCAR, I've found very few in-depth resources for the formative rough-and-tumble days of stock car racing. What few I have found have been incomplete, proven to be inaccurate, shallow in coverage, or repeats of someone else's writings. And NASCAR hasn't helped any as they've generally turned a blind eye to the years before the France family took control of the sport. But not this time. Thompson's book is great. Easily among the top 5 books I've read about racing. His research and interviews are well documented. And the stories are relayed with the appropriate drama without going over-the-top. Highly recommended.
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