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'Bristol' book of racing stories is now available

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Dec 16, 2018 at 7:25 PM

For those looking for that last-minute gift for race fans, local author David McGee has compiled the most comprehensive account of racing events at Bristol Motor Speedway and Bristol Dragway.

McGee's latest work is simply titled "Bristol," with a subtitle of "Stories of Oval and Drag Racing in Thunder Valley." It is the fourth book about the facility by McGee, one of the venue's public address announcers and its official historian. What makes this book different from his previous works is how in-depth he gets with the stories, some of them well known and others not as widely reported.

"There is a tremendous amount of detail in this book," McGee said. "When CarTech approached me about doing this, I asked them, 'What do you want? I've done three books and other people have done books.' They wanted stories and they didn't have to be the well-known stories like Dale (Earnhardt) and Terry (Labonte) in '95 and '99. What we tried to do was split it evenly between the speedway and the dragway. There's a lot of meat on the bone."

There are 50 chapters and 240 pages. Asked to pick his favorite stories, McGee compared it to trying to pick a favorite child. As someone immersed in local driving history, McGee admitted to being somewhat partial to those stories involving the local drivers and race teams.

"One of the ones I enjoyed reporting was when the track ran weekly from 1961-63," McGee said. "You had the drivers from this area like Brownie King and Bill Morton. They also attracted guys like Ralph Earnhardt (grandfather of Dale Earnhardt Jr.), Bobby Isaac and Junior Johnson over here when they were free. It was an interesting piece of history that maybe people weren't familiar with."

McGee, a reporter for the Bristol Herald Courier, also pointed to the story about Rick Wilson's win in the 1989 Budweiser 200 in the NASCAR Busch Series. Wilson, driving the No. 75 Food Country Oldsmobile for Abingdon, Virginia, car owner Charlie Henderson, held off future Hall of Fame driver Mark Martin for the win.

Another favorite was the account of Ernie Irvan driving the No. 4 Kodak Oldsmobile for Abingdon-based Morgan-McClure Racing to victory in the 1990 August Night Race. To earn his first Cup Series victory, Irvan had to beat future Hall of Famer and then-defending NASCAR champion Rusty Wallace for the win.

His favorite story on the drag racing side was evident, with all the detail he goes into about the first NHRA Spring Nationals in 1965.

"It was such a revolutionary idea to build a drag strip of that caliber in the Southeast," McGee said. "It was a gamble, a real effort by (track founders) Larry Carrier, Carl Moore and those guys to pull it off. The fact that NHRA raced east of the Mississippi River in what was only one of three national events, it was such a unique event. I spent a lot of time on that.

"One chapter connects the oval racing side to the drag racing side because Richard Petty drag raced here in 1965 and David Pearson was here with his Holman-Moody connection. It was really fun to go into all the details and document that for the fans."

McGee said he feels the fan experience at Bristol makes fans passionate about the place. He calls the speedway the ultimate short track and mentioned how the drag strip presents a challenge with the altitude keeping teams from making maximum power.

His newest book is available online at CarTech.com and through Amazon at the David McGee author page. Locally, the books can be picked up at the I Love Books bookstore in Kingsport's Fort Henry Mall and will soon be available at Barnes & Noble in Johnson City.

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