Driving with the Devil by Neal Thompson
Southern Moonshine, Detroit Wheels, and the Birth of NASCAR

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“Moonshiners put more time, energy, thought, and love into their cars than any racer ever will. Lose on the track and you go home. Lose with a load of whiskey and you go to jail.” —Junior Johnson, NASCAR legend and one-time whiskey runner

Today’s NASCAR is a family sport with 75 million loyal fans, which is growing bigger and more mainstream by the day. Part Disney, part Vegas, part Barnum & Bailey, NASCAR is also a multibillion-dollar business and a cultural phenomenon that transcends geography, class, and gender. But dark secrets lurk in NASCAR’s past.

Driving with the Devil uncovers for the first time the true story behind NASCAR’s distant, moonshine-fueled origins and paints a rich portrait of the colorful men who created it. Long before the sport of stock-car racing even existed, young men in the rural, Depression-wracked South had figured out that cars and speed were tickets to a better life. With few options beyond the farm or factory, the best chance of escape was running moonshine. Bootlegging offered speed, adventure, and wads of cash—if the drivers survived. Driving with the Devil is the story of bootleggers whose empires grew during Prohibition and continued to thrive well after Repeal, and of drivers who thundered down dusty back roads with moonshine deliveries, deftly outrunning federal agents. The car of choice was the Ford V-8, the hottest car of the 1930s, and ace mechanics tinkered with them until they could fly across mountain roads at 100 miles an hour.

After fighting in World War II, moonshiners transferred their skills to the rough, red-dirt racetracks of Dixie, and a national sport was born. In this dynamic era (1930s and ’40s), three men with a passion for Ford V-8s—convicted criminal Ray Parks, foul-mouthed mechanic Red Vogt, and crippled war veteran Red Byron, NASCAR’s first champion—emerged as the first stock car “team.” Theirs is the violent, poignant story of how moonshine and fast cars merged to create a new sport for the South to call its own.

Driving with the Devil is a fascinating look at the well-hidden historical connection between whiskey running and stock-car racing. NASCAR histories will tell you who led every lap of every race since the first official race in 1948. Driving with the Devil goes deeper to bring you the excitement, passion, crime, and death-defying feats of the wild, early days that NASCAR has carefully hidden from public view. In the tradition of Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit, this tale not only reveals a bygone era of a beloved sport, but also the character of the country at a moment in time.

From the Hardcover edition.

About Neal Thompson

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NEAL THOMPSON is the critically acclaimed author of Light This Candle, Driving with the Devil, and Hurricane Season and has contributed to such publications as Outside, Esquire, and Sports Illustrated. He lives in Seattle with his wife and two sons. You can find him at www.nealthompson.com.
Published February 4, 2009 by Broadway Books. 432 pages
Genres: History, Sports & Outdoors. Non-fiction

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Recounting those disjointed early efforts, the author warmly reveals his admiration for pioneer drivers such as Lloyd Seay, Roy Hall and Red Byron, mechanic Red Vogt and, above all, for the races themselves.

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BC Books

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Seay and Hall regularly beat a driver named Bill France on the track, but France would have the last laugh, bringing order to the chaotic world of stock car racing by creating the sanctioning body which would eventually be known as NASCAR.

Dec 28 2008 | Read Full Review of Driving with the Devil: South...

BC Books

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As Neal Thompson writes in Driving With the Devil, his excellent history of the culture that spawned stock-car racing and eventually NASCAR, the first drivers and owners operated on shoestring budgets, racing cars (usually Fords) they purchased straight from the dealership and - as often as not -...

Dec 28 2008 | Read Full Review of Driving with the Devil: South...

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