In 2008, after years of phenomenal growth, interest in NASCAR racing fizzled noticeably. Fans cite a litany of reasons: the poor economy, mediocre racing, the ill-conceived pseudo-playoff known as the "Chase for the Championship," the presence of (horrors!) a Japanese automaker in the Sprint Cup, and the pathetic spectacle of the Detroit automakers begging for billions of dollars in bailout money.
I could go on. But maybe NASCAR's biggest problem is that the sport has strayed so far from its southern, semi-professional roots. 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 - modified to transport moonshine whiskey. Stock cars were called "stock" for a reason.
The protagonists of Driving With the Devil are people like Raymond Parks, an Atlanta businessman who got his start running high-quality moonshine from rural Dawsonville, Georgia (a town that would produce a disproportionate number of stock-car legends, including Bill Elliott). Parks teamed up with Red Vogt, a surly but brilliant mechanic, to turn V8-powered Fords into "whiskey cars" that could outrun Treasury agents and survive the rough, red-dirt roads of rural Georgia.
A wise man once said that people got the idea to race cars as soon as the second automobile was produced, so it was only a matter of time before southerners got the idea to pit "whiskey cars" against each other, often on dirt tracks ploughed out of farmers' fields. Parks occasionally drove himself, but he usually left the racing to the legendary Lloyd Seay and Roy Hall - the former murdered by his own cousin, the latter stuck behind bars for many of his prime racing years. Moonshine whiskey, alas, sealed their respective fates.