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McGee trying to duplicate success of BMS book
By Jeff Birchfield   - 07/14/2007

Johnson City Press

Local author David McGee is subscribing to the theory, if you have a proven formula for success, don’t mess with it. Coming off the heels of a successful book simply titled Bristol Motor Speedway, McGee debuts a similar book titled Bristol Dragway next Monday.

“The BMS book was very successful. We had a great response to it,” said McGee. “The dragway book has been in the planning stages about as long as the BMS book was. I felt like the BMS book needed a companion to have the other half of the equation.”

The first book was McGee’s combined effort with Sonya Haskins, who had previously authored books about Johnson City, Jonesborough and Bristol. McGee is flying solo this time, but stays with the same format. Both books from Arcadia Publishing feature nearly 200 black and white
photographs over a 128-page layout.

“It’s a historic chronicle of what’s happened here from the construction of the track back in 1964 to the major renovation Bruton Smith did in 1998, to the modern era,” said McGee. “There are photos of the great stars and cars that raced here. We have pictures of Ronnie Sox, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, “Dyno” Don Nickles, some of the great names who competed here over the years. There are early pictures of Kenny Bernstein and Don “The Snake” Prudhomme. We tried to recapture some of that era.”

Local race fans may not be familiar with McGee’s face, but they would likely recognize his voice. He has been the public address announcer at Bristol Motor Speedway for the last 10 years and also helps out at the dragway during major events like last weekend’s O’Reilly Thunder Valley Nationals. His research for the book showed that drag racing ran neck-and-neck with stock car racing in popularity in the early days.

“Back in the 60s and early 70s, drag racing was as big an event in Bristol as the NASCAR race was,” said McGee, who first reported about motorsports as a teenager. “A lot of times the NASCAR race wouldn’t sell out, but the drag race did. All the big stars came to Bristol. It was one of the marquee facilities and one of the marquee events on the circuit. There’s a lot of history that we tried to recount in the book.”

Keeping an accurate record, McGee acknowledged there have been both high and low points during the 42-year history of Bristol Dragway. It was flourishing in 1971 when track builder and owner Larry Carrier expanded his drag racing operations to form the International Hot Rod Association.

For more than a decade, the IHRA competed on equal terms with the National Hot Rod Association. The IHRA later declined, leaving the NHRA as the dominant sanctioning body in drag racing. Two years after Bruton Smith purchased the track from Carrier, he switched Bristol’s allegiance to an NHRA facility.

“Drag racing in this area hit peaks and valleys a couple of times,” said McGee. “It was huge in the 1970s and early ’80s and then things dropped off. IHRA was based here, but IHRA had hard times and Bristol Dragway had hard times. You lost some of the star power. It’s all back now with guys like John Force. You’ve got fans coming to Bristol to watch racing from 30 states.”

McGee, a news reporter for the Bristol Herald-Courier, covered racing for 14 years as editor of the Sullivan County News. Sporting a degree in journalism from Morehead (Ky.) State University, he previously served as editor of the racing publication Drag Review and worked as a member of the Bristol Motor Speedway photography team.

“I’ve been around drag racing since 1980,” said McGee. “This sport has so much flavor and color. That’s been one of the complaints about NASCAR, how it’s lost its characters. Drag racing sure had its colorful characters and a lot of them are in the book.”

McGee was cautious to project book sales, although he feels it will be a success. There are good points and bad points when comparing it to his previous work. Bristol Motor Speedway is overwhelmingly the favorite track in NASCAR, while Bristol Dragway ranks among a number of favorite NHRA facilities. However, McGee did online research and saw that drag racing items typically sell very well, while the market is currently flooded with stock car racing books.

He’s hoping to tap into the huge national fan-base that has taken drag racing to a professional plateau. However, race fans are only half of the market McGee is going after.

“If you’re a fan of drag racing or a fan of local history, this book does a pretty nice job of blending those things together,” McGee said. “If you’re interested in this area, where we are and where we’ve come from, this was a big part of the social climate in the 60s and 70s. This track put the Tri-Cities on the map every bit as much as NASCAR did in those early years.”

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