2002 was the first full year AE - After Earnhardt. Dale Earnhardt, The Intimidator, had died in a seemingly minor racecar crash at Daytona in 2001. For the rest of that season and into 2002, NASCAR fans mourned the loss of one of the greatest racers ever. In the book Sunday Money. SPeed! Lust! Madness! Death! , Jeff MacGregor takes us, along with his wife, photographer Olya Evanitsky, whom he affectionately calls "The Beep," along for a trip throughout the United States as he travels the NASCAR circuit in a motorhome in 2002.
MacGregor gives us a look at the side of NASCAR that we do not see on ESPN or in the local paper. The focus of the book is not the analysis of races , the drivers, or the in-race strategy. Instead, he vividly paints pictures that describe the people, the venues, the sights, the smells, and the feel of everything associated with the sport of NASCAR racing. We read about the Super Bowl of NASCAR, the Daytona 500, oddly the first race of the season which, in some ways, makes the rest of the season seem like an afterthought. We read about the week between races when pit crews build the cars that will be raced on Sunday and we read about the activities of the drivers/racers during those weeks as well.
While MacGregor does not go into detail about most of the racers, he does go into some detail about a few of the more interesting characters. He writes about Richard Petty, he writes about the young man chosen to be the marketing focus of NASCAR officials in 2002, Dale Earnhardt Jr. We read about the love/hate feelings NASCAR fans have for Jeff Gordon, a California boy racing in a historically southern sport. We read about the enigmatic Tony Stewart.
Although part of the title is "Speed! Lust Madness! Death!", truth be told, there isn't much about lust, madness, or death in the book. One thing is for sure - MacGregor creates a vivid portrait of what he saw on the road. He describes a Whataburger franchise with the air conditioning "set on stun". He describes the roaring engine of a racecar as "Apocalypse in every cylinder, pistons hammering hot and remorseless as hell's forge,... , belts shrieking, crankshaft screaming threats, ... . Here is MacGregor's account of a wedding ceremony between fans at Atlanta:
"... The pastor, a pale man, wore a dark charcoal suit and a checkered-flag tie. Against the gray scale of the asphalt and the stands and the pastor and the sky, then the bride and groom were as festive as trout lillies wrapped in newspaper.
"...This was Friday at 1 P.M. on race weekend in October. The groom wore his CAT colors (the sponsor of their favorite driver, Wardon Burton, driver of the #22 car) and a precisely blocked black bull-rider cowboy hat and black jeans. Incongruously, he was wearing puffy white sneakers as if on his way to Jazzercise class. He was in his forties, heavyset with a gray goatee. Tatooed on his right forarm was the name Crystal. He seemed nervous.
"The bride wore the same black jeans and swollen white sneakers with her backhoe/skidloader bucket-shovel shirt, but had no hat. She was a few years younger than the groom, but of like size, both of them built to the same heavy-duty earth-moving specifications as the sponsor's equipment. Her dark brown hair was feather-cut in the roller boogie style of the late 1970's and she carried no flowers."
The last chapter, a brief description of the 2003 NASCAR series is an unnecessary chapter, and not written in the same vivid style as the rest of the book. It's as if an entire season elapsed until his book was accepted for publication and some reviewer asked for a chapter on the 2003 season, MacGregor obliging. MacGregor's disdain for corporate America comes shining through loud and clear at many points during the book. And at times, it's difficult to ascertain what MacGregor thinks of the fan base that he sees. At times he describes some fans with a sneering eye. At other times, he treats other fans with much respect.
But overall, MacGregor paints a wonderful portrait of NASCAR racing. I've never been to a car race, but I feel like I went to every venue during the 2002 season, thanks to MacGregor.