Tuesday, January 4, 2005
NASCAR racing no longer stranger than fiction
by Race Author
In another example of NASCAR stock car racing moving into the mainstream of the American public, the first novel completely based on the sport’s lifestyle and fans will be published within the next few weeks and distributed nationally.
Sharyn McCrumb, a Virginia writer best known for her Appalachian "Ballad" novels, including New York Times Best Sellers She Walks These Hills and The Rosewood Casket, has based her new novel on another Southern tradition: stock car racing. St. Dale (ISBN: 0-7582-0776-X; Kensington Publishing Corp.; $25.00), the story of a modern-day group of racing fans on a “ Earnhardt pilgrimage” to the Southeast speedways from Tennessee to Florida., will be published in February, 2005, by Kensington Publishing Corporation of New York.
“I studied NASCAR as a culture rather than as a sport,” said Ms. McCrumb. “I studied NASCAR the way an anthropologist studies American Indian cultures or the ancient Egyptians.
“Although the characters in the novel are Earnhardt fans, this isn’t a novel about Dale Earnhardt in a biographical sense, but, rather, a book that examines the role of heroes in the lives of ordinary people,” she said. “Ultimately this is a story about people’s search for something to believe in. Living in a secular age has not made that yearning go away.”
In St. Dale Harley Claymore, a down-and-out ex-Cup driver, takes what he thinks is a job leading a tour of Southern speedways, only to be told that the tour is a memorial pilgrimage, and that the passengers intend to lay a wreath in honor of Earnhardt on every Southern speedway from Bristol, Tenn., to Daytona Beach, Fla. The horrified tour guide, who raced against Earnhardt, did not think the Intimidator was a saint, but from Bristol's 2002 Sharpie 500 through the Labor Day Race at Darlington, and at all the empty speedways they visit in-between, he has to keep his opinions to himself. McCrumb calls the novel The Canterbury Tales set on the NASCAR circuit.
The bus is filled with a diverse group of characters, all there for various reasons. For Harley and his passengers, the trip soon becomes one of self-discovery as all of their lives are altered forever. Miracles begin, prayers are answered, secrets are revealed and bonds are forged as the bus rolls onward.
“My original intention was to learn enough about stock car racing to write a credible novel. I did not expect to fall madly in love with the sport but, once I discovered racing made sense to me, I loved it,“ said Ms. McCrumb. “The old NASCAR commercial asked: How bad have you got it? Oh, let me count the ways. Once I was stuck in the Chicago airport at race time; all the TV’s in the terminal were turned to baseball. So I called my NASCAR mentor on my cell phone and made her talk me through the race until my flight boarded.
“I had so many wonderful adventures writing this book. Spending a day with Junior Johnson, having pit stop strategy explained to me by Leonard Wood; ‘racing’ Ward Burton down back country roads in Virginia. St. Dale has been more fun than anything else I’ve ever done.”
Acclaimed Southern novelist Lee Smith, who is also a NASCAR fan, said: “This novel is funny, smart, full of NASCAR lore and cultural insight. St Dale is a must-read. I loved it!
Ms. McCrumb’s works, named New York Times and Los Angeles Times Notable Books, are taught at universities throughout the country. McCrumb's honors include: The 2003 Wilma Dykeman Award for Literature given by the East Tennessee Historical Society; AWA Outstanding Contribution to Appalachian Literature Award; Chaffin Award for Achievement in Southern Literature; Plattner Award for Short Story; Virginia Book of the Year nomination; AWA Best Appalachian Novel; SEBA Best Novel nomination; St. Andrews College's Flora MacDonald Award; and the Sherwood Anderson Short Story Award. Her books have been translated into a dozen languages, and she has served as writer-in-residence at King College, Bristol, Tennessee and at Shepherd College in West Virginia. In 2001 McCrumb taught fiction at the WICE Conference in Paris. A graduate of UNC Chapel Hill with an MA in English from Virginia Tech, Ms. McCrumb has lectured on her work at Oxford University, the Smithsonian Institution, the University of Bonn, Germany, and at universities and libraries throughout the country.
The San Diego Tribune Arts section said of Ms. McCrumb’s work: “With her eloquent, lyrical and richly-textured novels, McCrumb provides fresh evidence that there is no one quite like her among present-day writers. No one better, either.”