The Early Laps of Stock Car Racing: A History of the Sport and Business through 1974

By Beekman, Scott | The Journal of Southern History, November 2015 | Go to article overview

The Early Laps of Stock Car Racing: A History of the Sport and Business through 1974


Beekman, Scott, The Journal of Southern History


The Early Laps of Stock Car Racing: A History of the Sport and Business through 1974. By Betty Boles Ellison. (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland and Company, 2014. Pp. x, 284. Paper, $35.00, ISBN 978-0-7864-7934-4.)

Betty Boles Ellison's The Early Laps of Stock Car Racing: A History of the Sport and Business through 1974 primarily uses newspaper accounts (supplemented by monographs and websites) to illuminate a portion of the sport's long history. The volume is, with a few exceptions, organized in a straightforward chronology that is chopped into twenty-seven (often very brief) chapters over 252 pages of text. Ellison predominantly examines activities on the track and the business dealings and regulatory actions of William Henry Getty "Big Bill" France. Readers seeking an examination of stockcar racing in a broader cultural or political context will be disappointed with this book. Ellison's stated intent is to document "the organization of and the first sixty-six years of America's stock car racing history" (p. 1). The author, however, problematically defines those first sixty-six years as the period from 1908 to 1974.

Ellison chooses to start the main narrative with William K. Vanderbilt Jr.'s 1908 Briarcliff race in New York, which the author asserts was "the nation's first sanctioned stock car road race" (p. 2). Ellison seems unaware that stockcar racing occurred in the United States (on road courses and oval tracks) for a dozen years before the Briarcliff event (although she does make one brief comment about the 1904 Vanderbilt Cup race). Also, the first chapter's detailed discussion of stock-car racing ends in 1911, while the next chapter opens with the Daytona Beach, Florida, races of the mid-1930s--leaving two decades of the sport's "early laps" mostly unexamined. Chapter 2's examination of the Daytona Beach races leads directly into Ellison's introduction of Bill France, who remains the focus for the rest of the volume. …

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