Sharyn McCrumb is an award-winning Southern author that is most recognized for her Appalachian “Ballad” novels set in the North Carolina/Tennessee mountains. She has had many New York Times Best Sellers including “The Rosewood Casket”, which is being directed for film production by British American Award nominee Roberto Schaefer. But, in 2005 McCrumb went in a new direction with her writing.
She began to pen a novel that NASCAR fans have come to truly appreciate. McCrumb’s novel “St. Dale” has drawn world wide acclaim. As most NASCAR fans can attest there are very few novels outside the realm of Harlequin type romances that are set around the NASCAR theme. I was really excited when I heard about this novel because I am a big Sharyn McCrumb fan. I was somewhat skeptical that anyone could do it justice, but I’ve decided after reading this novel that McCrumb has done a superb job.
When Sharyn McCrumb was in college she became fascinated with the idea of secular sainthood and the canonizing of actors, royals, musicians and others. Elvis, Princess Diana and Mother Theresa to name a few. She had an idea for a novel based on this theme but did not seem to have a character in mind until the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001. A devastating day for many NASCAR fans. The shock of Dale Earnhardt’s tragic death still reverberates throughout NASCAR.
McCrumb was from the same area and the same generation that Dale was from. She saw how profoundly the NASCAR community and the world mourned for Dale Earnhardt and in him found the inspiration for her novel about the canonizing of a secular saint. She loosely based her novel on “The Canterbury Tales” a story about several common everyday people on a pilgrimage to honor Thomas a Beckett a 12th century priest. During their travels the people tells stories to pass the time.
In her novel “St. Dale“, McCrumb uses the idea of a pilgrimage. The characters come from very different backgrounds to embark on a bus tour that is to visit several southern race tracks including the site of Dale’s tragic accident to honor him and remember what he meant to them.
Her characters include a former washed up NASCAR driver as the tour guide. A young boy with Leukemia who is accompanied by a minister. A judge, a stock broker, a couple dealing with Alzheimer’s and many other heart warming people that I came to love as I read her book. Each character has a story of their own and McCrumb treats each one as the center of the story. She slowly adds details about the characters that helps you understand their reasons for going on the trip. She treats Dale’s memory with great respect and has done exceptional research. The story is set in 2002 about 18 months after Dale’s death. The Earnhardt family was very pleased with the book and felt that is was very accurate as to how people reacted and how much they mourned his passing.
I loved every character and identified with their struggles. I believe that any NASCAR fan would enjoy this novel and hopefully McCrumb will write many more set with a NASCAR theme. The parallels to Chaucer are very easy to spot making it seem akin to an updated “Canterbury Tales”.
I recommend this book to NASCAR fans, especially to those that honor the memory of Dale Earnhardt.