September 09, 1985 12:00 PM

by Kim Chapin

Nothing seems more mindless to the uninitiated than the racing of noisy, expensive cars around a track. This lively first novel goes a long way toward making it possible to understand that dangerous business. Through flashbacks in the life of a young driver as he pushes his car in a big race, the author describes Four Corners, Miss, and the families that have for two generations been racing hopped-up cars. First, the men ran moonshine. There are splendid details of loading liquor jars into cars that have been specially altered to carry heavy weights at high speeds—to outrun any lawman on highway, back road or city street. Then somebody builds a dirt track outside of town. Maybe this is just the best way to prove who’s the toughest driver and whose car is the hottest. Chapin is lyrical on how it feels to spin a car 180 degrees around on a dew-wet field in the early morning. His racing men—and the one-eyed genius who can make any car run better—are completely convincing characters. Their dialogue is funny and beautifully apt. The novel’s contrived ending is a disappointment, but the sneaky, artful ways Chapin has made this special world come alive are an extraordinary feat. A sportswriter who lives in Washington, D.C., he has helped write two of Billie Jean King’s books and is the author of Fast as White Lightning, a book about stock car racing in the South. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $13.95)

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