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What about Car Racing?

April 23, 2008
By Terri Schlichenmeyer
Some people just don’t get it.

“What’s the appeal of car racing?” they ask. “The cars don’t go anywhere except in a circle.”

They just don’t get it. They don’t understand that it’s not about the circle, so much as the drivers who try to get ahead of the others in any way they can. They don’t get that it’s about the cars, the daring, the speed and the feeling you have when the engine’s sound somehow rumbles through your body.

Especially, they don’t get the daring.

In the new book “Angel in Black” by Tom Gillispie, you’ll read about one of the sports’ gutsiest drivers, his triumphs and his life, from his own words and from the perspective of those who knew him.

In his preface, author Tom Gillispie says it wasn’t easy writing a book about Dale Earnhardt, Sr. “Ironhead” lived up to his name, especially when it came to journalists. After Earnhardt’s death, it became doubly difficult to get interviews with people who knew him. This book, though, does a fine enough job.

It’s been said that Dale Earnhardt, Sr. got his audacity on the track from his father, Ralph, whom young Dale idolized. Ralph was a great racer, with 32 Sportsman wins and a 1956 national championship to his credit and he “lived and breathed racin’.”

So did his son.

In the ninth grade, Dale Earnhardt Sr. quit school because racing was all he ever wanted to do and nothing else was as important to him as being behind the wheel. By age 29, Earnhardt “hit the big time.”

Although it might be hard for fans to reconcile the Earnhardt they knew with this, Dale’s oldest friends say he was shy and unsure of himself when he first started to win. They say Earnhardt was quiet and introspective.

In his later years, “The Intimidator” was known for his tendency to pull pranks. He loved roughhousing and he loved to do “incredible” things; one story has it that he drove several miles backwards one day, passing other cars and avoiding policemen so that he could drop a friend off at home.

But despite his roughness and his well-known moodiness, Earnhardt Sr. had a soft spot. He loved children, he was very generous, and some say he was a man of great faith. Surprisingly, he begged journalists to hide those vulnerable traits.

“Angel in Black” is one of those books you can open at any place and read for a few pages, but, like a good race, you’ll enjoy it better if you catch it all. Author Tom Gillispie offers dozens of fascinating stories about Earnhardt Sr., including several of Gillispie’s own. All these stories show many facets of the complicated man who died in a 2001 crash as another car he owned passed the finish line in first place.

Whether you were a follower or you cheered for another driver, you’ll want to read “Angel in Black.” If you’re a NASCAR fan, it’s perfect for you. So get it.

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Contact Terri at bookwormsez@graffitiwv.com

Fact Box

“Angel in Black”
By Tom Gillispie
ç 2008, Cumberland
House Publishing
$15.95 = 302 pages

 
 

 

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