Sports books generally aren’t very good. At least for the sort of people who prefer reading to sports. But Jeff MacGregor nailed the crossover in his most recent, Sunday Money. It was by far my favorite sports read last year, and if you’re looking for an introduction to NASCAR you’d be hard pressed to find a better primer.
For the uninitiated, NASCAR can seem a set of baffling unknowables — or just 300,000 rednecks in the grandstand, braying at death-frenzied hayseeds. Lacking the pastoral sophistication of baseball or the strategy of football, for as many adherents NASCAR claims (around 75 million) there are sports fans set against its inevitable rise.
Jeff MacGregor’s first book serves as a shot across the bow for those staunchly in the “stick-and-ball world;” Sunday Money is a primer on the history of stock car racing and a vivid portrait of the season MacGregor and the Beep (his “Beautiful, Brilliant Partner,” photographer Olya Evanitsky) spent crisscrossing America in a motorhome, clocking 47,649 miles on the Winston Cup tour.
But more than offering race descriptions, anecdotes, or driver hijinks, more than recounting life in the NASCAR tent cities or parking lots of Wal-Marts, MacGregor examines the sport’s commercial machine — the squadrons of flacks regulating image, the promotional juggernaut packing logos and endorsements into sports columns and TV highlights. Incorporating an analysis of consumerism into his book, MacGregor shows NASCAR as larger than the sport and its myth. It is the inexorable Tony Stewart, Orangeman of Home Depot; Mark Martin in the Viagra Ford; Jimmie Johnson in the Lowe’s Chevy. It is Will Ferrell as Official Spokesman of NASCAR Day. It is the scads of products bearing drivers and their cars, it is the cardboard cutout of Dale Jr. in the beer aisle with a pile of Bud. As MacGregor argues, in buying widgets, shopping at Home Depot, or seeing Will in his new movie (coming this fall with Sacha Baron Cohen), you’re anteing up, so you might as well learn how to enjoy it. To that end, short of attending a race, track down this primer. The depth of description and insight jacks it head and shoulders above the ordinary.
– Nick Parish