Sea to Shining Sea, Racing From the Wild West to Daytona
by Ken Clapp with Bones Bourcier
“It wasn’t all work and no play for young Ken Clapp. I did my share of silly kid stuff. I had an old car that we used to roll over in the fields, just for kicks. A couple of us built a small ramp, and if you got going fast enough and drove one of the front wheels over that ramp, the car would get up on two wheels; then you’d crank the steering wheel hard, and the car would flip.
It was a stupid thing to do, of course.”
What was not stupid was that young Ken Clapp also had the idea to charge his audience—other kids— 25 cents each to watch him do it. But what at first glance has that “don’t try this at home!” flavor is also emblematic of qualities that made Clapp the right man for the job of NASCAR’s biggest West Coast cheerleader: he was so excited doing the stunt that he forgot to collect the money!
If you don’t already know the arc of Clapp’s career you’ll probably start thinking right around chapter 2—15-year-old Ken has just faked his way into a legit NASCAR Mechanic’s license so he can prowl pit lane unhindered—that his way of recognizing, accepting, and pursuing his interests is quite unlike that of other teens. Lots of 8-year-olds tear up the family farm with their jalopies but how many go on to be a race promoter, track owner, and NASCAR VP? There are many, many more notches in his belt.
The key figure in the NASCAR part of this story is Big Bill France, and to his dream of taking NASCAR national, from sea to shining sea, the book owes its title. Don’t start reading it if you’re in a hurry—it is not a book to be gotten through, knocked off the reading list but to be savored.
Already as a schoolboy, Clapp, otherwise mostly bored by his classes, had a mind for history. This is in full flower here, aided and abetted by award-winning motorsports journalist Mark “Bones” Bourcier who early on makes a comment he also made in his book As a Matter of Fact, I Am Parnelli Jones: it is as much a history book as it is a memoir. An enormous amount of factual detail is dispensed, but always the connective tissue is the personal anecdote, reminiscence, insight that makes the telling of the story so engaging. Clapp guesses that over the decades he “had a direct role in ‘a bit more than 6,000 single-day events’” so, yeah, he crossed paths with lots of people. Also, he was part of the team that took NASCAR to Japan in 1996 so he understands his corner of the motorsports spectrum not only as the quintessential American pastime but one with global pull. For that matter, back in the earliest days of stock car racing, NASCAR was mostly associated with the Eastern and Southern US and not at all seen by Westerners as an inevitable or even positive development. An impressively deep Index keeps it all accessible. How deep? No surprise that, say, racer Linda Vaughn is in it, but country music star Dolly Parton?!
The book couldn’t have had a more sympathetic publisher than Coastal 181. Their tagline “Reading for Racers” really says it all, and it might as well be “By Racers for Racers” because they fielded their first #181 race car more than 60 years ago.
Copyright 2023, Sabu Advani (Speedreaders.info)