One Helluva Ride
One Helluva Ride
How NASCAR Swept the Nation
By Liz Clarke
Villard, Hardcover, 9780345499882, 320pp.
Publication Date: February 12, 2008
From its raw beginnings on Southern dirt tracks, NASCAR smacked of a slightly depraved spectacle, as if nothing but trouble could come from the unbridled locomotion of a V8 engine. By the time NASCAR roared into the twenty-first century, it had grown into a billion-dollar sports and marketing colossus, its races attended by hundreds of thousands of fans on any given weekend from mid-February through mid-November, watched on television by the second-largest viewing audience in sports, and bankrolled by the marketing largesse of the Fortune 500’s elite.
One Helluva Ride, a full-throttle account of the rise and reign of NASCAR nation, is award-winning motorsports reporter Liz Clarke’s chronicle of how stock car racing exploded from regional obsession to national phenomenon. In covering the sport for more than fifteen years, Clarke has developed a strong rapport with NASCAR’s drivers, team owners, and hard-core fans. Through her reporting and analysis, we get to know the public and private sides of NASCAR’s most iconic figures, including seven-time champion Richard Petty, who set the standard for treating fans with respect, and the late Dale Earnhardt, whose brazen, bullying tactics wreaked havoc on the track, but whose heart was as big as Daytona’s infield.
The sports world stopped in its tracks the day Earnhardt was killed on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Some feared that NASCAR’s soul would die with him. But it has raced on, steered by visionary promoters, the all-controlling France family (who founded the sport), and, above all, the next generation of drivers to stir fans’ passions: Dale Earnhardt, Jr., son of the NASCAR legend and now, like his father before him, the circuit’s most popular driver; Jeff Gordon, the beloved but oft-maligned outsider, bred from the cradle to be NASCAR’s winningest modern champion; and Kasey Kahne, a reluctant heartthrob whose confidence derives entirely from an accelerator pedal. Clarke also brings us inside NASCAR’s most triumphant and tragic dynasties: the Pettys, the Earnhardts, and the Allisons–and reveals how faith, family, and a deep-seated love of their sport helps them cope with grief and loss.
Clarke shows NASCAR to be at a crossroads. In pursuit of a broader audience, NASCAR has severed its sponsorship ties to Big Tobacco, abandoned racetracks in small markets in favor of speedways near glitzy major cities, and welcomed Japan’s Toyota into a sport traditionally restricted to American-made sedans. As NASCAR races toward mass appeal, some suggest it is leaving its roots behind. To others, it is boldly extending its reach from the Southern workingman to every man, woman, and child in the world.
Whether you’re one of the die-hard NASCAR faithful or just a casual follower, nobody brings you closer to the sport and business of big-time stock car racing than Liz Clarke. This book, like the phenomenon it profiles, really is One Helluva Ride.
Advance praise for One Helluva Ride
“I’ve known Liz Clarke for a long time. She’s one of the most respected writers out there. One Helluva Ride gets off to an entertaining start, and it describes the 2001 Daytona 500 just as I remember it–a race that went from the all-time high of my life, coming back from tearing up the car and finishing third, to the all-time low of losing one of my best friends, Dale Earnhardt.”
–Rusty Wallace, 1989 NASCAR champion and ESPN commentator
“You can’t pretend to have a full-scale discussion about sports anymore without understanding NASCAR. One Helluva Ride is an entertaining, literate look at where the sport has been and where it’s going.”
–Michael Wilbon, Washington Post columnist and co-host of ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption”
“From the moonshiners of the Southern mountains to Madison Avenue, Liz Clarke takes us into the very soul of NASCAR. Her insightful mind and years of covering stock car racing make this book an absolute read for anyone even faintly curious about this phenomenon.”
–H. A. “Humpy” Wheeler, veteran NASCAR promoter and president of Lowe’s Motor Speedway
“Liz Clarke does a great job of telling the story of how NASCAR has changed since I was driver.”
–Robert Glen “Junior” Johnson, legendary NASCAR racer