Saturday, April 17, 2010

Book Review: He Crashed Me So I Crashed Him Back

Good racing books and good racing movies are in short supply. Great racing books are even more rare. Links to my favorite racing books have been available since day 1 of this blog. Until about a couple of months ago, the list was static. But I recently added a new one - Mark Bechtel's He Crashed Me So I Crashed Him Back.

Many who have followed NASCAR for a long time often claim 1992 is still the most memorable Cup season. It included a tight points battle between Davey Allison, Bill Elliott, and Alan Kulwicki; Richard Petty's last season; Jeff Gordon's debut; The Winston's One Hot Night finish; etc. The late David Poole from the Charlotte Observor wrote a fantastic, now out-of-print book about that lauded 1992 season.

In Bechtel's book, however, he presents a very compelling case for the 1979 Cup season to at least be in the discussion. After reading his book, I have to admit its tough to debate 1979 isn't #1 or at least #1A.

Without giving too many of the neat stories away form the book, consider some of the historical facts from that season:
  • Cale Yarborough was attempting to win a 4th straight championship driving for Junior Johnson.
  • Richard Petty's driving future was uncertain. His winless streak extended from mid-1977 through all of 1978. In addition, he had surgery for stomach ulcers in the 78-79 offseason. No one was quite sure what to expect from the King as the 1979 season opened at Riverside in January.
  • Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough wrecked on the final lap of the Daytona 500. Richard Petty passed them both and ended his winless streak.
  • CBS Sports was there to cover the famed finish.
  • Kyle Petty debuted as a race driver in the Daytona ARCA 200 ... and won!
  • David Pearson's unbelievable run in the Wood Brothers Purolator Mercury from the early 1970s through 1978 came to an abrupt end after a pit miscue at Darlington.
  • Ralph Earnhardt's boy, Dale, showed up with a mop of unkempt hair as a rookie in 1979. It didn't take him long to tell the veterans who he was.
  • Franklin, TN's Darrell Waltrip had finally arrived. He said he came to Cup to not only beat Richard Petty but to knock the King off his throne. As the season wound down, it looked like his rhetoric may become reality. In the end, however, the King rose like a Phoenix, pocketed five wins and the championship.
  • The King and DW battled like two heavyweights in the spring Darlington race. They passed each other multiple times in the last few laps - including passes in places on the track where it simply can't be done. Waltrip won the battle and got a nice trophy that day, but in the end it was the King who won the war.
  • ESPN was not yet a household, cable network. The Daytona 500 was the first big-time NASCAR race shown in its entirety.
I thought I had a pretty good inventory of trivia in my noggin and scrapbooks about the 1979 season. But this book included many anecdotes I'd never heard before.

Because many of the stories were fresh to me and based in part with interviews with varying drivers, owners, promoters, etc., Bechtel could have made an error without my knowing it. However, the only obvious one I spotted was his reference to Holly Farms Chicken as Cale Yarborough's sponsor in 1979. As many times as the Daytona 500 last lap wreck has been replayed, you'd think he and his editors would automatically remember Busch beer as Cale's sponsor. Otherwise, the book is well researched and well written.

Top honors in my book! A full 6 pack of Schaefer for He Crashed Me So I Crashed Him Back!


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