The Babe Ruth of Stock Cars

June 05, 2005

FULL THROTTLE: THE LIFE AND FAST TIMES OF NASCAR LEGEND CURTIS TURNER

By Robert Edelstein

The Overlook Press, $24.95, 334 pages

EVEN AS the NASCAR dad roars into the heart of mainstream American culture, the sport of stock car racing gets further and further from its roots. In an era when Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s utterance of a four-letter word in a postrace interview constitutes controversy, it's hard to recall just how rough and tumble--and how gloriously colorful--those roots were. Edelstein's superbly researched and engagingly written biography of Turner, a giant even among the larger-than-life characters of NASCAR's early years, reminds the reader in vivid fashion.

Born in 1924 in the little Virginia town of Floyd, Turner was driving his daddy's car by the time he was nine, and he honed his skills hauling moonshine as a teenager. He began his racing career on the dirt tracks of the South, quickly becoming a fan favorite for his hard-charging style, and went on to win hundreds of races (he was the first NASCAR driver to appear on the cover of SI), found Charlotte Motor Speedway and even get himself banned from the sport for four years for trying to start a drivers' union. Along the way Turner, a strapping, handsome man with, as Edelstein writes, "too much energy knocking around inside him," made and spent several fortunes in various businesses, while always finding time for the next party. Then, at age 46, Turner, who had survived countless accidents on the racetrack, was killed when the private plane he was piloting crashed into a hillside in Pennsylvania.

The stone that marks Turner's grave in Roanoke, Va., is engraved with his name and the words THE BABE RUTH OF STOCK CAR RACING. As this enormously entertaining book makes clear, it is a fitting characterization. --Richard O'Brien

COLOR PHOTOHARPERCOLLINS (SUNDAY MONEY BOOK)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)