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Book Review: 100 Things NASCAR Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die

Posted by Amy in General | NASCAR

When I was offered the chance to read and review the new book 100 Things NASCAR Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Mike Hembree- I jumped at the offer.  I am a NASCAR fan after, so part of the book’s target audience.  I am also a huge fan of reading and knowledge. Plus, judging by the name of the book I thought it could even be the jumping off point in creating a NASCAR bucket list of sorts which is something I’ve been thinking a bit about recently.  As a matter of fact, I was so excited with the book arrived in the mail that I ripped right into the package before even leaving the post office.

(Photo Credit: Triumph Books)

As with any book, the first thing I did was just to a quick flip though it. Sadly, what I saw already slightly disappointed because judging by what I saw on the flip through- the book was heave on the “KNOW” part and light on the “DO” part.  It was just an initial flip though so maybe I was missing something, I thought to myself. After diving into the book, however, my suspicion on this was confirmed.  There was very little in the book that could be considered things to “DO” and nearly (not all) all of them were must-see tracks like Talladega, Bristol and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

That being said, for the book’s compact size (it fits quite well into my purse) it is chucked full of knowledge. The best thing about the historically significant persons and places covered in this book is that they are accompanied by not-so-common bits and stories so that even the seasoned and well-versed NASCAR fan will likely find at least a couple fascinating stories or facts they did not already know.  I was particularly fond of several tidbits about notable past drivers. A favorite of mine is about recent NASCAR HALL OF FAME inductee David Pearson:

In 1969 he was involved in a vicious crash at Bristol (Tennessee) Motor Speedway. He wasn’t hurt but when he looked down at the floorboard after the wreck, he discovered that the impact had knocked off his shoes. “I always heard that people who were killed in wrecks had their shoes knocked off,” Pearson said. “So it scared me for a minute.” (inset, page 23).

Historically speaking, the book is a great primer on the best notable figures throughout NASCAR.  Well known drivers like Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Bobby Allison, The King- Richard Petty, and of course Dale Earnhardt Sr all have chapters dedicated to them.  Hembree’s book, however, also contains chapters on some of the greats behind the scenes such as Dale Inman (crew chief), Bud Moore (car owner and crew chief) and Smokey Yunick (innovative car building). Nor does the book stop with NASCAR legends no longer behind the wheel.  It also contains chapters on current drivers (legends in the making perhaps) including Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Mark Martin, and of course Dale Earnhardt, Jr.  Yes I do believe there is a name missing from this list that should have been included but was NOT, but I will get to that a little bit later.

Two of my favorite chapters of this book happen to be the back-to-back chapters of 44 and 45.  Chapter 44 is entitled “What’s In A Word” and features a two page glossary of terms common in NASCAR.   It goes over terms like bite, camber and groove- all words you are likely to hear on any race broadcast or at any track.  There were some things that I felt could have been included in the list (wedge, trackbar, spring rubber) but the list is strong as it is.  One term that was on the list that I had never heard of was BEAR GREASE, which apparently is a descriptive slang term used “to describe patching materials used to fill cracks in a track’s surface.” You learn something new every day!

My next favorite chapter happened to be the next chapter (45) called “Can I Quote You On That?” As the name suggests the chapter is a list of memorable and often times humorous quotes from NASCAR- including the infamous comment Joey Logano made about Kevin Harvick’s wife, Delana, wearing the firesuit in the family.  Another couple of great quotes that I just have to share are:

“Somebody bit my little brother John’s ear almost off. I think it’s very unprofessional.” Crew chief Barry Dodson, complaining about a post race crew fight that got a little rough (page 133)

 

“It’s because he grew up in the southernmost part of the house.” Jeff Burton explaining why older brother Ward has a distinct Virginian accent while he does not. (page 135).

Already a longish chapter compared to most in the book- I admit I would have loved to see this list of quotes expanded too.

Speaking of expansion of the the most interesting and helpful (to me) insets in the book (most chapters of this book have relevant insets) was found in Chapter 22- a chapter about the famed Martinsville Hot Dog.  The inset, on page 69, contains a list of stop-worthy restaurants around some of the major tracks.  I would have LOVED to see this inset become its own chapter and cover many more tracks on the NASCAR circuit. As a fan heading to a track for the first time- that is something I could use!

For the size of the book (I mentioned already that it fits quite well into my medium sized purse) and the bite-sized length of most of the chapters, the book is incredibly extensive. However, I did feel some of the chapters could have been consolidated or many into insets.  For example, Chapter 52: A Running Finish, detailing that Carl Edwards ran across the finish line on foot at the end of the 2009 race at Talladega after his car was disabled in a grave and horrific final lap crash could have been an inset into the chapter on Carl Edwards. There were several chapters that could have been either included in the actual Dale Earnhardt Sr chapter or would have made appropriate insets; Chapter 35- The Dale Trail, Chapter 53- Earnhardt’s Death Sparks Safety Advances and Chapter 55- Gordon and Earnhardt- A Strange Rivalry. Chapter 35 (Lost Tracks), the inset on page 79 called Gone With The Wins and Chapter 48 (Riverside, RIP) are all about tracks that are no longer in operation and would have been more impressive if consolidated as well.

Then there were the three chapters that I thought could have been omitted completely.  Chapter 37- Are Drivers Intimidated seemed to me to be superfluous and really just filler. Chapter 77, which covers the change in the fueling cans (and did away with the pit crew position of catch can man) seems to be a waste to me because if I knew about catch-can men it’s redundant and if, say I was a new fan who didn’t know about catch can men, I’d find it confusing and irrelevant.  Chapter 100 is completely inane and made me feel as if perhaps Hembree was reaching for that 100th chapter and just threw in the first thing that came to mind.  The chapter, A Shorts Subject, details how in 2011 NASCAR changed the pit road/garage dress code to no longer ban things like shorts, skirts, open toed shoes and sleeveless shirts. No doubt the rule was enacted to increase the comfort level of non-crew members in these usually restricted areas such as wives, girlfriends and esteemed guests. When I read this chapter, I was so disappointed to have such an overall informative book end on a seemingly frivolous note.

My biggest issue with this book however, is what to me seemed to be a glaring omission on the author’s part.  I find it weird that the author chose NOT to include a chapter on Tony Stewart when thinking about notable current drivers to include in the book.  I obviously have bias towards this particular driver but I still feel his contributions to the sport as they currently stand are enough to be included- especially when considering which of his peers were included. Stewart has won multiple championships in NASCAR, not to mention his numerous championships in other series such as IRL and USAC.  There is is recent move from driver to driver-owner.  I could go on. In my opinion, Tony Stewart is more “note-worthy” than some of the other drivers highlighted in the book.  It was my biggest disappointment in the book.  He wasn’t even briefly mentioned in the chapter on Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as he could have been.  I was sad to see that Tony Stewart seemed to be, for the most part, overlooked (he was tersely mentioned in one chapter that I can remember).

The epilogue, however, almost (and I use almost as in…not hardly) redeems the oversight in omitting a Tony Stewart chapter.  The epilogue details the incredible 2011 Sprint Cup Series Finale (that ended with Tony Stewart winning a 3rd Championship and his first as an owner-driver).  Having been on the edge of my seat for weeks during the Chase, it was hard for me to even figure out how to put into words the excitement and edge of my seat feeling that I had during that last race. Hembree did that well in the epilogue.  I can only hope that in future editions (should there by any) that the epilogue be turned into an official chapter.

All said and done, while my expectations for the book were a bit different than what was actually delivered, I’d still recommend 100 Things NASCAR Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die.  Fans new to the sport will eat up the bite-sized chapters covering the sports rich 65 year history- many of which are still relevant today.  More seasoned or versed fans will still find something to take away in the book’s many interesting behind-the-scenes points on well known drivers, tracks, races and more.  Definitely one for casual fans and probably even for aficionados alike.

(For disclosure purposes I did receive a copy of the book 100 Things NASCAR Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die without charge for the purpose of a possible review.  The review, however, is all my own.- Amy)

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