Driving with the Devil

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Today’s NASCAR is a family sport with 75 million loyal fans, growing bigger and more mainstream by the day. Part Disney, part Vegas, part Barnum & Bailey, NASCAR is also a multi-billion 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 they 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 a car full of corn liquor, deftly out-running federal revenuers. The vehicle 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 race tracks 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 felon Raymond Parks, foul-mouthed mechanic Red Vogt, and crippled war vet 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 was held in 1948. Driving with the Devil goes deeper to bring you the excitement, passions, 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 by-gone era of a beloved sport, but also the character of the country at a moment in time.

Read an Excerpt – the Epilogue [PDF]

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Reviews

“A definite crowning achievement… Thompson’s writing is superb. He is a grand storyteller and does his homework.” - The Boston Herald

“A finely tuned history of racing, from its rural roots in the 1930s to the multimillion-dollar industry it is today.” -Indianapolis Star

“A thrilling ride … a fascinating and fast-moving account of NASCAR’s fledgling days. Thompson brings an infectious energy to this stretch of Southern history – even if you don’t know a master cylinder from a head gasket.” -The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Driving With the Devil is a full-tilt excursion through the back roads of NASCAR’s past, when moonshiners and scofflaws pioneered the sport. This is a tale that sanitized corporate NASCAR would rather forget about, but with Neal Thompson at the wheel, it makes for wonderful reading. ” -Sharyn McCrumb, author of St. Dale

“Driving with the Devil is a treasure trove of historically relevant information which tracks the history of the American automobile industry, the culture and morality of the broader society and the motivations and personalities of early stock car racing. ” -Jack Roush, chairman of Roush Racing

“Excellent… shows a deep understanding of how Nascar racing essentially owns the world south of the Mason-Dixon Line. ” -Brock Yates, Wall Street Journal (“Five Best Books on Car Racing” – Driving with the Devil is #1)

“Thompson has attitude, curiosity and affection (and) he knows how to get inside the character of the eccentrics who shaped the sport.” -The Chicago Sun-Times

“The real story of how it all started … If you love NASCAR, you ought to care about how it began, and that’s why Driving with the Devil is as important a stock-car racing book as has ever been written… Unlike NASCAR’s modern mythmakers, Thompson’s heroes are the moonshiners and the misfits.” -Monte Dutton, The Gaston Gazette

“Driving with the Devil is a most impressive piece of work. Most Americans have the vague notion that big-time stock-car racing sprang from moonshine-hauling in the Southern Appalachians prior to the Second World War, but here is documented proof that it was that and much more. Neal Thompson’s Driving with the Devil nails it once and for all: a riveting report any student of Americana will cherish. It’s no more about racing than The Old Man and the Sea is about fishing.” -Paul Hemphill, author of Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams and Wheels: A Season on NASCAR’s Winston Cup Circuit

“[A] raucous account of NASCAR’s early decades … the enthusiasm of this breathless, nostalgic account will be contagious to Southern history buffs and historically minded NASCAR fans.” -Publisher’s Weekly

“Neal Thompson has written NASCAR’s Glory of Their Times. He tells the true story of NASCAR’s beginnings, revealing the sports’ strong whiskey roots and letting us get to know its key movers and shakers including the triumvirate of racer Red Byron, mechanic Red Vogt, and bootlegger car owner Raymond Parks. Like Seabiscuit, Thompson makes a sport and an era come wonderfully alive.” -Peter Golenbock, author of Miracle: Bobby Allison and the Saga of the Alabama Gang and American Zoom: Stock Car Racing – From Dirt Tracks to Daytona

“NASCAR fans will love this book. Non-NASCAR fans might love it even more. Thompson opens the window into NASCAR’s past and shows us with wonderfully drawn characters and humorous stories how it became America’s fastest growing sport. Driving With The Devil is one of those rare books that entertains as well as educates. His research is impressive, but it is his ability to make old-time characters come alive that makes this book a fascinating read.” -Harry MacLean author of In Broad Daylight

“[Thompson] displays all the skill of a seasoned journalist in his pacing and savvy storytelling … his grasp of the sport’s history is abundant and presentation of anecdotes exceedingly interesting.” -Kirkus

“It is a fascinating read – part sports, part culture – and perhaps as close as any book has come to exploring and explaining stock car racing’s deep Southern roots.” -The Tennessean

“This book gives us a unique insight into the early culture of NASCAR, in a way we’ve never seen.” -H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler, president, Lowes Motor Speedway

 

Driving with the Devil: Southern Moonshine, Detroit Wheels, and the Birth of NASCAR

  • Gilbert151

    Thank you for this book!  My husband has always been infatuated with cars and NASCAR.   He even owns a ’40 Ford!  I never understood its relavence to the NASCAR experience until I read your facinating book.  We live in Henry County, Georgia, location of Atlanta International Raceway.  In the ’60′s our Board of Commissioners hired high school students to help park cars in dirt fields for the race, and on Monday after the race we knew who had been there by the sunburned faces…still excited about being part of the race.

    Also, my husband always said that it all began in a cow pasture in Stockbridge;  you have given valility to his account.  His father was a well-respected mechanic who had a shop in Stockbridge.  Story goes that the Flocks would bring their cars to the shop on Friday describing  something  that the car needed, knowing that it couldn’t be finished in one day, and thus, having to be locked up in the shop for the weekend…providing a wonderful storage facility out of the reach of the revenuers! 

    After I finished reading  the book, my husband went to his collection cabinet and showed me his  replica of Parks’ number 22 Oldsmobile  and his picture with Smokey Yunick.  He met Smokey at AIR where he was a security guard for the suites.  He remembers fondly how Smokey always came by to speak to him when he was at the races.

    We recently learned that a friend (a fiesty 85′ish lady)  actually raced at Lakewood during the early days…pictures and all! 

    Again, thank you for your extraordinary account of this era.  You did a wonderful job of putting all the pieces together.

    J Gilbert
    McDonough, GA

     

  • Charlene Tolbert Sieg

    Was recently informed about your book by my cousin Tom Vogt, Red Vogt’s youngest son. Planning on purchasing the book for my sister and have been reading excerpts on the internet. Would like to point out that Red Vogt’s father was Louis C. (NMN) Vogt, not Charles. The C was just an initial. And that is why he was called Louie – french pronunciation. Incidently he was my grandfather, my mother was Jewell Vogt, Red’s only sister. Also, my grandmother’s name was Carolena, or Carolina, Jerome, not Caroline. But everyone always called her Carrie. She was a distant cousin of Jennie Jerome, Winston Churchill’s mother. Your book is showing me a side of my uncle I never knew, altho I did know the boys were sent to military schools way too young. Just some info for you to mull over.