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  • Motorsports and American Culture: From Demolition Derbies to NASCAR ed. by Mark D. Howell and John D. Miller
  • Daniel J. Simone
Motorsports and American Culture: From Demolition Derbies to NASCAR. Edited by Mark D. Howell and John D. Miller. ( Lanham, Md., and other cities: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014. Pp. xxi, 219. $94.00, ISBN 978-1-4422-3096-5.)

Mark D. Howell broke ground with From Moonshine to Madison Avenue: A Cultural History of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series (Bowling Green, Ohio, 1997), a full-length scholarly study of stock car racing. Since then, academics [End Page 225] have produced a handful of auto racing books, and Motorsports and American Culture: From Demolition Derbies to NASCAR is one of the best.

The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) remains America's most popular auto racing sanctioning body, yet stock car racing makes up but a portion of the American auto racing narrative. Editors Mark D. Howell and John D. Miller rightfully include other types of motorsports in this interdisciplinary collection of twelve essays and define motorsports in the broadest of contexts.

For instance, the intentional destruction of vehicles for sport and entertainment can be considered a motorsport. Two articles reflect this notion—showcasing the diversity of this collection. In "Speed and Destruction at the Fair," Emily Godbey details the staged destruction of cars and buses at agricultural fairs during the early 1900s, and Susan Falls looks at deliberate crashing as a form of motorsport in "Creative Destruction: The Demolition Derby."

In "Automobile Racing and the American Hot Rod," David N. Lucsko traces the evolution of hot-rodding throughout the twentieth century. Mostly unregulated, hot rods were quite common on public roads through the 1950s. Their status changed with automobile emissions laws passed during the 1960s and 1970s. Enthusiasts were forced to decide where they wished to show off and test their creations, and Lucsko indicates that "the need to keep one's on-road project legal has since served as a fairly effective legal barrier between the track and the street" (p. 35).

John Edwin Mason describes the sights and sounds of a small Virginia drag strip in "'Anything But a Novelty': Women, Girls, and Friday Night Drag Racing." According to Mason, "no motorsport (and few sports of any kind) has been more open to women and members of racial and ethnic minorities than drag racing" (p. 125). He is correct; drag racing has produced a roster of national champions that includes Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey.

Lisa Napoli provides an excellent essay on Barney Oldfield, America's first speed king. While Oldfield had countless on-track achievements, Napoli stresses the extreme significance of his actions off the track: "It's likely he was the very first sports star to put his public persona to use as a pitchman" (p. 177). Oldfield also "became an ardent promoter of automobile safety later in life" and, Napoli observes, "helped with the development of the seat belt" (pp. 178, 179).

NASCAR's popularity has long since moved beyond the American Southeast, and two essays in the collection investigate NASCAR's expansion to wider audiences. In "The NASCAR Paradox," James Wright explains how corporate sponsorship and television coverage helped NASCAR nationalize and gradually shed its southern identity. NASCAR is also attracting more foreign competitors and fans. Ehren Helmut Pflugfelder addresses NASCAR's globalization in "'Running with the Big Dogs': The Rhetoric of Fan Identity in a Postmodern NASCAR." He traces the sport's growing international audience and focuses on how American fans and the media reacted to Toyota entering NASCAR competitions and the emergence of Colombian driver Juan Montoya, a former Indianapolis 500 champion and a Formula One driver who embarked on a full-time NASCAR career from 2007 to 2013. [End Page 226]

A pair of articles touch on early stock car racing. Martha Kreszock, Suzanne Wise, and Margaret Freeman examine Louise Smith, who raced in numerous NASCAR-sanctioned events in the late 1940s and early 1950s and often earned respectable finishes. In this excellently researched article, they look at Smith's entire career—both on and off the racetrack—and show how "Smith brought her own brand of...


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