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Reviewed by:
  • Motorsports and American Culture: From Demolition Derbies to NASCAR ed. by Mark D. Howell and John D. Miller
  • Christopher J. Anderson
Howell, Mark D., and John D. Miller, eds. Motorsports and American Culture: From Demolition Derbies to NASCAR. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014. Pp. 219. Notes, illustrations, bibliography, index. $94.00, hb; $89.00, eb.

Motorsports and American Culture: From Demolition Derbies to NASCAR seeks to answer the question "Why study motorsports?" by offering several fascinating glimpses into a subset of sports studies, particularly the study of motorsports. In this volume of essays, editors Mark D. Howell and John D. Miller consider the intersections of American culture and sport by [End Page 109] examining the cultural symbolism inherent when motorsports intersect with technology and fan culture. The collection provides an array of intriguing venues and contexts, ranging from superspeedways to dirt tracks and from fair grounds to salt flats.

The editors employ cultural studies as a methodological lens to examine the "social implications of contemporary or historical moments and personages in motorsports" and claim the volume "offers the most thorough study to date of motorsports from a cultural studies perspective in three aspects: the breadth of motorsports analyzed; the scope of the aspects of each motorsport covered; and the variety of critical perspectives used by the authors" (x). This volume is an admirable attempt to address the broad spectrum of American motorsports, a herculean task given the wide varieties of racing that avid fans participate in and follow every weekend throughout the United States.

The chapters in the volume range in type of motorsports from "The NASCAR Paradox" to "Speed and Destruction at the Fair" (locomotive collisions) to "The Fastest Cars in the World" (land speed racing). They investigate the intersections of gender and racing with essays including "Just a Good Ol' Gal: Pioneer Racer Louise Smith," "Anything but a Novelty: Women, Girls, and Friday Night Drag Racing," and "Way Tight or Wicked Loose? Reading NASCAR's Masculinities."

The volume is a welcome addition to the growing academic arena of sports studies, and the essays bring together motorsports and American popular culture studies in compelling ways. The inclusion of women and men as racers and competitors presents a more-balanced perspective on gender and auto racing by providing readers with scholarship on the history of women in NASCAR and drag racing. The volume also provides readers with a broad sketch of how motorsports provides fans with weekend entertainment while at the same time offering an assortment of venues for observers to study the culture and people of auto racing.

As a longtime fan of auto racing, I had hoped to learn more about the rich diversity of motorsports in American history and culture. Although the book sets out to provide a broad survey of motorsports and American culture, the volume is missing a significant slice of auto racing. The topic of NASCAR comprises half of the essays with only a few representations of other types of motorsports. The many varieties of motorsports offered in the United States—including IndyCar racing, American Formula 1, off-road racing, kart racing, and motorcycle racing—are largely missing from this work. Other areas for future study include essays on the concept and culture of "family" in racing and the role of religion in motorsports.

These questions and suggestions do not take away from the value of the collection. The volume will be particularly beneficial for scholars and general readers interested in the history of American sports, popular culture studies, the history of American technology, and gender and sport. I look forward to additional scholarship based on the essays from this useful introduction to American motorsports. [End Page 110]

Christopher J. Anderson
Yale University


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