While there has been a great deal of talk about the Gen 6 race car, with NASCAR banking on fans falling in love with the newly branded stock cars, an historical love affair with a car, in this case a 1956 Chevy Bel Air Sport Coupe, inspired a new NASCAR book entitled ‘Race from the Finish’.
The book, written by D.T. Dignan, is about a 1950s fictional racer John Powers who had one dream, to break into the big time in the burgeoning sport of NASCAR. In the novel, Powers cuts his racing teeth on the many new dirt tracks around his hometown of Pittsburgh, moving into the Midwest Associate of Race Cars new circuit, the precursor of today’s ARCA racing series, and ultimately into NASCAR
Dignan acknowledged that the new Gen 6 NASCAR race car really is a throwback to racing of old, particularly during the time when her book is set. And, just like in the book, the point of racing cars on the track was to sell them in the show room the following week.
“I think the new car is more true to stock car racing in the days of the book,” Dignan said. “I think that’s interesting to see.”
“Back then, much of it was a marketing thing as the car companies realized that it would sell more cars after every race.”
For Dignan, her inspiration for her book was all about the car. In fact, the car on which the story was based, a 1965 Chevy Bel Air, had personal, as well as professional, meaning to her.
“My dad had a 1956 Chevy Bel Air and he courted my mother in that car,” Dignan said. “I always thought it would be so fun to own one.”
“About ten years ago, I came across this car and bought it,” Dignan continued. “I did it because I wanted to drive it and show my dad and take him for rides in it, which he’s been able to do.”
“We participated in different car shows and I notice so many people drawn to her and you can tell they are just remembering,” Dignan said. “That’s why I wanted the 1956 car to be in the climax of the story.”
So, how did the car, which held so many memories, become inspiration enough for an entire novel about racing from back in the day and back in time?
“At that time the 1956 Bel Air had quite a powerful engine and so came onto the racing circuit,” Dignan said. “So, I imagined what it would be like to have that car race and the type of person that might strive for that and want to race that car.”
“Suddenly, I had an idea for a story and that’s how the main character was born,” Dignan continued. “I had a lot of fun doing quite a bit of research on historic racing and the different tracks around the area, especially in the Pittsburgh area where the story is set.”
“There were a lot of new tracks coming up because it was becoming quite popular to see folks get into racing,” Dignan said. “The book basically deals with historic racing.”
“It’s more character driven but there’s quite a bit of history in it concerning NASCAR, especially in the 1950s.”
Dignan had to do all kinds of research, both in libraries and on-line, in order to bring her book and characters to life. She also did some research right in her home state of Michigan, including seeing some of the old race cars from the past.
“I found books about racing and I also did research on line and also found some of the old racers and their videos back in the day,” Dignan said. “That was fascinating to watch those cars go around the dirt tracks, with the racing and the accidents they had.”
“I had to do that to explain what would happen to the driver during the race and to explain the movement of the cars in written form,” Dignan continued. “I wanted to have the reader picture the race in their mind and I had to watch video of actual footage to see what it was like.”
“Basically, I did every type of research you could find,” Dignan said. “We have some historical racing information here in Michigan.”
“In fact, we have an actual Hudson Hornet here so I went to check that out,” Dignan continued. “Buck Baker’s car is in Greenfield Village so there are a lot of different resources to tap into.”
Dignan’s research would not have been complete, however, without a visit to a modern-day race track. So, off she went to Michigan International Speedway to experience the thrill of NASCAR racing up close and personal.
“I actually experienced my first NASCAR race here in Michigan studying for the book,” Dignan said. “It was incredible.”
“There was one interesting moment when we went under the grandstand and you could get up next to the fence next to the track,” Dignan continued. “You’re basically eye level with the wheels.”
“That was pretty intense as you watched them zip by with all that power and speed,” Dignan said. “So, I developed a knowledge and appreciation for racing because of the research for the book.”
So, is her fictional driver John Powers patterned after any of the drivers, past or present, which she encountered during her research?
“I’m sure that there is a little bit of several different drivers in him just from watching the footage and being at the track,” Dignan said. “But he’s more my own creation.”
“Actually the character develops over time as driving is his sole passion, to the point where it becomes at the expense of other things and people,” Dignan continued. “The climax of the story is that you see that in a race at Abbottstown, Pennsylvania, which was an actual race.”
“It was the only NASCAR race on that track in 1956 and Buck Baker won the race,” Dignan said. “That’s kind of interesting because I wanted to have the ’56 Chevy be the car he was driving at the climax of the story, so I had to work the whole timing of the story around that.”
“And it just so happened that the race took place three hours from Pittsburgh where he hails from,” Dignan continued. “That was the only NASCAR race at that track that ever happened in that year.”
Dignan, a most passionate author, is convinced that NASCAR fans today would really enjoy her story about NASCAR racing in the past. In fact, she thinks it would give fans a whole new perspective on the history of the sport.
“I think they would enjoy it because it would give them a little bit different perspective about racing from an historical standpoint, when it was newer and very different,” Dignan said. “I think for them to realize what these guys did and went through to pursue their racing dreams would give them a whole new appreciation.”
“They didn’t have driving schools back then,” Dignan continued. “They didn’t have big sponsors back then.”
“Basically the guys had to teach themselves,” Dignan said. “They had to have support and a lot of guts.”
“They had to work hard to get money to support their racing careers,” Dignan continued. “I think fans would find that interesting.”
Race fans interested in reading ‘Race From the Finish’ can order it from Barnes and Noble or Amazon, however, it can also be ordered from her website www.racefromthefinish.com. An added bonus is if fans order the book from her website, Dignan will personally sign it.