Book Review — NASCAR Then and Now

Very much a rags to riches story, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing went from a few dirt tracks to big time business in less than half a century. Given the rather long name, it’s no wonder the acronym, NASCAR, now describes the league, the cars and a culture.

Contemporary Spectacle

With tremendous amounts of spectators and quite a bit of money wrapped up in the show, NASCAR now represents a cultural force. As with most forms of entertainment, stock car racing came from a varied background, but the unified league has allowed for organized competition. NASCAR: Then and Now (Motorbooks; Ben White; 2010; $25.00) provides a comparative look into the history of NASCAR across the years.

The very definition of a coffee table book, NASCAR: Then and Now, doesn’t provide much in terms of words. A little bit of history given at the beginning of each chapter provides an introduction. The focus of the book is on the photographs – a wealth of old and new pictures offering a high resolution glimpse into the action. The quality of the pictures gleaned from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s gives the book a huge advantage. Many ‘then and now’ books are also an exhibition in ‘then and now’ of photo quality, but this book provides historic photos with amazing depth and clarity, taking the viewer back to the early days of Daytona Beach and Bristol to show just how much the sport has grown and changed.

Identity Loss

The contrast between the times shows how far the sport has come. However, it also reveals the severity of NASCAR’s identity loss. The book highlights the innovation and perseverance of the early NASCAR teams, with an entire chapter devoted to the teams and home town boy drivers. Yesterday’s NASCAR was dominated by rough and tumble men like Cale Yarborough whose soiled face defined the sport of old, offering a stark contrast to today’s perfectly coiffured celebrity driver who leaves fans wondering if Carl Edwards has even ever seen a wrench.

The focus on the race tracks offers some of the best side-by-side comparisons due to similarly angled shots. The amazing expansion of the grandstands at Bristol provides an obvious illustration to the huge numbers of people involved with the sport. Aerial shots of each track give a striking view and the surprisingly high quality of the vintage photographs makes the side-by-side comparisons quite easy.

Sometimes, however, the photos will be from different or reversed angles. While this doesn’t detract terribly from the experience, it seems odd that a similar angle couldn’t be produced for the newer picture.

Engineering Achievements

Perhaps the most jarring example of progress can be found with photos of crashes illustrating a few very violent happenings. While NASCAR may have lost some of its early mystique, the advances in safety cannot be commended enough. Most obviously, the interior of a modern car features a complicated scaffolding of roll cage supplemented by harnesses and neck protecting seats.

The areas surrounding the tracks have a huge impact on safety as well. Early oval tracks used steel guardrails as barriers, resulting in a particularly graphic image of a car impaled on a broken one. While concrete walls have prevented this, the SAFER barrier, provides a great safety advantage through its impact absorbing foam.

As for pit lane, the image of an open pit lane, directly next to the racing surface at Darlington gives potential for a great deal of injury should someone get turned on the front straight. Today’s pit lane features a welcome wall of separation on both sides to protect the crews.

Clone Cars

As much as the tracks, fans and show matter, without the cars NASCAR wouldn’t be very much. In the beginning, stock cars came straight from production cars. The top, Strictly Stock division, was just that: stock. While today’s cars feature tube frames and the exact same body, the early cars actually looked like cars, rather than bricks with paint. Early paint schemes included the street horsepower of the homologated engines, a local dealer or two or some other local business.

The book makes it easy to see the progression of NASCAR into its current corporate era, as the decade-by-decade photos show the progress of sponsorships. Also, while the engines of yesteryear were required to have a production variant, today’s engines are not found in any passenger cars.

Team equipment progression is somewhat mind boggling. From a couple of jack stands and workbenches onto full portable shops with huge tool chests, the crews of modern cars have a lot more to work with. As with every other part of the book, though the technology has improved to amazing levels, the original methods seem to portray a great bit more soul.

Pictorial Perspective

Those looking for a complete NASCAR history should look elsewhere, as NASCAR: Then and Now provides very little detail in its captions or introductions. However, if a picture is worth a thousand words, then this book is worth about a couple hundred thousand words. With strikingly beautiful photography, the book makes for a great quick read, providing an image of just how far an all-American sport has come.


NASCAR Then and Now

  • 144 Pages, Hardcover
  • Nigel Kinrade, Photographer
  • Smyle Media Archived Photography
  • Historical & Contemporary Comparative
  • Motorbooks
  • ISBN: 9780760338148

See AlsoBook Review — McQueen’s Machines

Harrison Card is a student at UNC Charlotte. He writes for UNCC's University Times, covering a variety of topics. Harrison is an avid motorsports fan, and has a huge interest in all sorts of automobiles ranging from the Ford Model B to the Honda Civic Type R.

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