A savvy anecdotal history, by an experienced motor-racing journalist, for the Car & Driver crowd--plus. Stock car racing began during the Thirties, Chapin recounts, when moonshiners in hopped-up Fords dodged lawmen on the backroads of Dixie. On weekends, they staged dirt-track races among themselves. After World War II, promoters like Bill France--organizer of the Grand National circuit--took the play away from outlaw ovals (which nonetheless survive as training grounds) and built big, fast, paved superspeedways at Daytona Beach, and elsewhere, geared for long-distance events. Backing from Detroit auto makers and parts suppliers--""win on Sunday, sell on Monday""--also helped speed stockers into financial big time. But it could only have happened, Chapin suggests, in the rural South: ""Southerners, much more than urban Easterners or Midwesterners, could easily understand and respect what was involved in the preparation and driving of a hunk of iron that resembled, outwardly at least, the cars that sat in their own driveways."" Hard-charging heroes--beginning with Tim Flock, Curtis Turner, Fireball Roberts--soon caught the public fancy; but since the early Seventies when factory teams were officially disbanded (owing to energy and environmental constraints), five drivers have completely dominated the sport: Richard Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Gale Yarborough, Bobby Baker. But they are now being challenged by Dale Earnhardt, Kyle Petty (Richard's son), and a handful of other comers. And as Chapin points out, mechanics--like GM's Smokey Yunick--have their fans too. With input from all involved, he's caught both the go-go allure and the deathwatch aspect of a thoroughly dangerous, immensely popular business.