David McGee has been telling me for years that he wanted to steer back to his home state of Kentucky — and come up with a new book.
Well, at 61, this author from Bristol, Tennessee, has accomplished just that — and flown into the winner’s circle — with “Flyin’ Floyd: The Unvarnished Biography of an American Dirt Racing Legend” (Little Creek Books, 2019, $19.95).
This 140-page paperback tells the story of “Flyin’ Floyd” Gilbert.
“This is the most personal project I’ve ever done, because the subject was my first racing hero,” said McGee, a longtime reporter for the Bristol Herald Courier.
“I watched him race and win nearly every weekend while I was growing up. Those are great memories of going to the race tracks with my dad and grandfather.”
Bristol should thank Gilbert.
After all, if this is where McGee developed his passion for motorsports, then Bristol is all the richer for it.
McGee, for one, is the longtime track announcer — and historian — for Bristol Motor Speedway.
He is co-founder of the Central Appalachia Racing Archives, a new nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving, documenting and promoting the auto racing heritage of East Tennessee, Southwestern Virginia and East-Central Kentucky.
McGee has also penned a series of books on the racing history of Bristol, Tennessee. And, those books are like “Flyin’ Floyd” — illustrated with both rich stories and compelling photos.
Still, McGee said, the new book “is much more than a recounting of Floyd Gilbert’s life in racing. It really showcases the quality of the competition he raced against everywhere he went. That was truly the golden age of dirt, late-model racing, because there were some 20 guys that he competed with all the time, and nearly all of them are in the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame.”
Gilbert won 500 races “against some of the best in history,” McGee said. “That says a lot.”
Another thing: Gilbert was what McGee called “a very unique character.”
That’s the reason for the book.
“He was a lot like Dale Earnhardt, in that he had a lot of self-confidence,” McGee said. “He knew he was usually the best driver on the track and wasn’t afraid to move somebody else out of the way to take a checkered flag. He also knew how to get inside another driver’s head. The year he won the World 100, he told two drivers exactly what lap he would pass them for the lead — and he was right.”
McGee says he has written “personality profiles” in chapters of his other books.
“But this was my first attempt to build an entire book around one individual,” McGee said. “Floyd was a larger-than-life personality, so that helped.”
All this got started, actually, when the writer and researcher unearthed a scrapbook that dated to his childhood: newspaper clippings of race stories and a few photographs from the 1970s.
“From there. I started reaching out to people,” McGee said, “And I received a great deal of encouragement along the way. They said this story deserved to be told. It was truly a treasure hunt, finding these guys who raced and these photos from 45 or 50 years ago. After months of research, I knew I had enough to write it.”