Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts
Teddi  Cowden 

From Stock Cars to NASCAR: A History

Coping with Isolation in the Novels of Garth Stein

Garth  Stein
Garth Stein’s novels convey the painful impact of isolation as his protagonists attempt to cope with loss in ways that only further distance them from others. Denny, the protagonist of The Art of Racing in the Rain, is somewhat isolated in the beginning of the novel because, as a racecar driver, he must travel across the country for competitions, far from his wife and daughter. However, after the sudden death of his wife, Denny’s loneliness worsens. As he faces the legal battle of fighting his in-laws for custody of his daughter as well as a false accusation of rape of an underage girl, Denny can look to no one but his loyal dog Enzo for companionship and to help him out of his isolation. Ultimately, Denny is brought out of this alienated state by his duty to protect his daughter, and he emerges from the experience with a better understanding of his true self as an individual and as a member of a community.

Just as Denny uses racing to get away from the isolation he feels from society, so did many moonshiners in the Piedmont South of North Carolina in the early 1900s. During the Prohibition these moonshiners were transporting and selling illegal alcohol in order to acquire more money for their families. When they weren’t being chased by the police, moonshiners were suiting up their cars to make them go faster and racing each other. As stock car racing became more popular in the south, Bill France helped to establish the National Association of Stock Car Automobile Racing, better known as NASCAR, in 1947. NASCAR became popular throughout the nation after receiving a six-year $2.4 billion dollar contract with television stations such as NBC, TBS and FOX. With two hundred and fifty sponsorships, the second highest television ratings for sports next to the NFL, and billions of dollars being made each year, NASCAR transformed from a working class, Southern sport to one of immense popularity and a higher status.

Major Works Consulted:

Ernsberger, Jr., Richard. God, Pepsi, and Groovin’ on the High Side: Tales from the NASCAR Circuit. New York: M. Evans and Company, 2003.
Levy, Janey. Racing Through History: Stock Cars Then and Now. Toronto, Canada: Children’s Press, 2007.
Stein, Garth. The Art of Racing in the Rain. New York: HarperCollins, 2008.
--. How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets. New York: Soho, 2004.
Photo Credit: "An Evening with Garth Stein." Long Beach Public Library Foundation. Web. 11 Mar. 2013.