We’re dusting off the ol’ TehBen Book Club once again, and for very good reason. Motor racing has dictated a lot of our content around here lately, and as such, we’re taking the chance to review a new autobiography from one of NASCAR’s most recognizable names. Buckle up and let’s go for a ride!
Swerve or Die: Life at My Speed in the First Family of NASCAR Racing, by NASCAR’s Kyle Petty and Ellis Henican is an autobiography featuring one of American stock car racing’s most interesting characters. Presented in a casual and welcoming stylization, Petty invites the reader into an intimate retelling of his decades in and around NASCAR, most notoriously as the 3rd generation driver in stock car’s most famous family. It would seem that Kyle Petty has been EVERYWHERE through his life in and around the sport, and nearly no stone is left unturned in this book.
Students of NASCAR history often come up short with Kyle Petty, focusing on the last name and what that carries in the grand scheme of the sport. Certainly, being the son of a 200 race winner and most recognizable character in stock car history comes with that caveat, but Kyle’s life is full of interesting moments that might otherwise slip through the cracks beyond his own 8 Cup Series victories. Be it singing country music on live national television unexpectedly, part owning a minor league hockey team, appearing on a Barbie Doll package, or crashing his race car the first time driving at Charlotte because no one ever told him to let off the throttle in the turns (seriously, this happened), there’s a mountain of unique things that could and should stand out more from Kyle’s story.
To read Swerve or Die is like taking part in an intimate 30 chapter conversation with Kyle Petty, as the writing comes off a lot like the way he speaks. It wouldn’t sound like Kyle Petty without folksy mannerisms, and there’s more than enough of that sprinkled in to make this feel like an in-person meet n’ greet written out on paper. The emotions contained amongst the highs and lows, of which there have been several of each in Petty’s life, are translated beautifully and faithfully to the reader, and his brutal honesty via text magnifies the Kyle Petty charisma.
To tell the story of the Petty family: from pioneer Lee, to King Richard, to our storyteller Kyle, and through 4th generation Adam and beyond is to tell the story of NASCAR itself. In many ways this is a biography of American Stock Car Racing intertwined with Kyle Petty’s memoirs. Just about every significant moment in NASCAR history had a Petty either taking part or watching close by, and this perspective is shared wonderfully by the authors. What spoke to me the most was the story of Kyle’s son Adam, who was killed in a practice accident for a race at New Hampshire in 2000 at age 19. While the crux of Kyle’s journey through NASCAR is built around the lens of this tragedy, there’s an honest and wonderfully shared expanse on what came before and after that accident. The later stages of the book give us a chance to see who Adam Petty was and what his legacy should be beyond a tragedy that took a young driver from us far too soon. Perhaps more importantly, we also see how this shaped Kyle’s life through his profession and his charitable works that continue to this day.
Verdict: Swerve or Die: Life at My Speed in the First Family of NASCAR Racing by Kyle Petty and Ellis Henican is the brilliantly told journey of a NASCAR lifer that’s equal parts engaging and hilarious, while pulling no punches on the triumphs or tragedies in the sport’s famous royal family. There’s simply too much to summarize in this personal story that spans from the roots of NASCAR itself in the 1940s through the present day, but that’s the scope of what Kyle Petty shares with the reader. Told in such a way that is understandable and digestible no matter the level of NASCAR fandom held, Swerve or Die can be enjoyed at any reading pace, and a good time will be had by all. I personally guarantee you will learn at least one new thing about Kyle Petty or his family in each and every chapter, and for that reason alone should be required reading for any stock car racing enthusiast. Just as the title suggests, this is the life of NASCAR’s Kyle Petty, told at his speed, and we better strap in and hold on for the ride.
Amazon Link: Preorder for release August 9th, 2022
Thanks to St. Martins Press for the advanced copy of Swerve or Die. All thoughts and opinions are that of TehBen.com.
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