Auto Racing

An Obsessive’s Delight

As longtime readers of this blog already know, I often throw in a review of a book about auto racing.  While the modern game is a bit tame, I think the history of the sport represents a romantic, hard-nosed and dangerous pastime worth reading about.  Our most recent post dealt with the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but I also like reading about the heroes of earlier ages.

Of course, at some point one needs to talk about Formula one, right?  Well, we need to do more than just this

Peter Higham - Formula One- Car by Car- 1960-1969

So I picked up a copy of Peter Higham’s book Formula 1: Car by Car: 1960-69.  Now, this book does exactly what one would expect, namely discusses  every single car that raced in the hugely innovative decade of the sixties, a decade that began with the last vestiges of the front engined cars of the sixties still on the track and ended with (as you can see on the bottom right photo of the cover above) with cars that had begun to sprout 1970s style wings.

All right. It does what it says on the cover.  So what?

So, the sheer amount of research, looking for the information, the description and, especially, decent photos of every car that made it onto the grid of every race is not an easy task.  In fact, I’d call it Herculean.

Of course, front runners are easy.  We all know everything about every chassis that Jim Clark ever drove, tested or even glanced at, but what about the LDSs and Sciroccos of the world?  Can anyone keep track of the different engined people shoved into Lotus 18 chassis?  Apparently Higham can, and you can follow along with this book.

Of course, labors of love of this sort can often be boring reads.  If you are at all interested in race cars, this one bucks that trend. The accompanying text is not only full of information, but also of interesting anecdote and period feel.

So for any car buffs out there looking for a definitive guide to what raced when, this series (there are books on other decades) is a great place to get the data.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine author.  For completists looking to get his previously-published stories all in one place, a good starting point is Virtuoso and Other Stories.

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The Hardest Day

1923 Chenard et Walcker Sport

1923 Le Mans Winning Chenard et Walcker Sport (prints available here)

 

We did say eclectic, right?

Let’s move away from our more mainstream cultural, literary and cinematic concerns to talk about the 24 Hours of Le Mans.  Yes.  An auto race.

I’m allowed to do this because Tom Wolfe, he of the white suits and Bonfire of the Vanities, did it before me, with little negative effect on his career… and he was writing about NASCAR for chrissakes.

The 24 Hours is not NASCAR.  It’s a global event of massive proportions (congrats to Toyota for finally breaking their curse in 2018–despite the relatively weak field, I was very happy to see a loyal and determined competitor finally achieve the prize), steeped in a tradition that few other sporting events can match.

It survived the deadliest motorsport accident in history (84 people dead in 1955) without missing a beat and continues to be the best race in the world to this day.

But it would have been hard to imagine that on its first running nearly 100 years ago.  In 1923 a field of relatively stock touring cars set off on awful roads to drive for a day.  Automobiles were still mostly for the rich, especially in Europe, although some manufacturers of cyclecars were emerging (of course, the Ford Model T had already put America on wheels, but this wasn’t America).  The cars at Le Mans, however, weren’t transportation for the masses; they were serious machines for the gentleman enthusiast.

Come to think of it, that hasn’t really changed at all–the GT category in this year’s race was composed of cars similar to those that the well-heeled can buy off the showroom floor.

Le Mans 1923-1929 by Quentin Spurring

If you’ve already got a couple of general Le Mans books, the absolute best way to get a feel for how this race really was in its early days is to read the incredible book Le Mans 1923-29.  This one, part of a wonderful series by Quentin Spurring, goes really deep and talks about every race and every car and team in every race.  It’s the absolute best description of this era available.

Even if you aren’t really into auto racing, it’s a good read.  Why?  Because it gives you a feel for the 1920s in France from a viewpoint that you won’t get anywhere else.  I’ve already got the next volume (1930-39) sitting in my to-be-read pile, and am looking forward to it anxiously.

I may, at some point in the near future, write a novel where early racing figures prominently, so I can call these books research.  Yeah, I think I’ll do that…

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine writer whose novel Outside is available on Amazon through this link.