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WHEELS by Paul Hemphill

WHEELS

A Season on NASCAR's Winston Cup Circuit

By Paul Hemphill

Pub Date: June 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-684-83017-5
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

 Hemphill (Leaving Birmingham, 1993) does his homework, leaving almost no stone unturned in this intriguing look at the 1996 season on the NASCAR stock--car circuit. Once a southern phenomenon comprised of hot-rodding moonshiners and good ol' boys with names like Buck and Fireball tearing up the local dirt ovals, stock-car racing, under the banner of NASCAR (the National Association of Stock Car Automobile Racing) has become a huge sports marketing enterprise. While this transformation has helped to make NASCAR attractive to national audiences and international sponsors, many feel that the sport may be selling its soul to the highest (Yankee) bidder. With a mechanic's precision, Hemphill rummages under NASCAR's hood to see what makes it run. Beginning with February's Speedweeks, a two-week gearhead bacchanal leading up to the circuit's first stop, the Daytona 500, and climaxing with the NAPA 500 in mid-November, NASCAR's Winston Cup series (the classiest of the stock-car racing circuits, named for its cigarette-producing sponsor) visits large cities and small hamlets alike, unfolding its drama of (white) men-and-machines in front of crowds often numbering into the hundreds of thousands. Hemphill notes, however, that NASCAR is inching ever further from its roots: Tracks in smaller communities, such as North Wilkesboro, N.C., are giving way to huge superspeedways in St. Louis and Dallas; the driver/owner, once the foundation of the sport, is finding it increasingly hard to keep pace with the corporate-sponsored multi-car teams. The season-ending awards dinner is held in, of all places, New York City. Lest one think that all of this success is spoiling NASCAR, Hemphill indicates that, at least down on the track, the races are still a ``maddening, ear-piercing, thunderous affirmation of life as Bubba understood it.'' A fascinating slice-of-life profile of one of America's most popular, yet least appreciated, sporting spectacles.