It was so nice to be back at a racetrack after so many months away due to the pandemic. The sights, the sounds, and of course the people make the experience so fulfilling. I’m now looking forward to my next event, the Honda Indy 200 @ Mid-Ohio, July 2-4. Until then here are a few more pics from the Jefferson 500. Enjoy! (TJ 2021)
Summit Point Motorsports Park, Summit Point, WV – May 13 -16, 2021
Victory Lane Magazine, Story by Terry Johnsen
The Jefferson 500 at Summit Point Motorsports Park is the marquee event for Vintage Racer Group (VRG). With 2020 firmly in the rearview mirror, and COVID restrictions being eased throughout the country, everyone was ready to get back to the business of having fun! As a result, VRG celebrated a record turnout for this year’s event. Everyone had a newfound spring in their step, heightened by the opportunity to get back behind the wheel, and to renew old friendships. You could feel the energy and excitement in the air. To top it off the weather cooperated with beautiful sunny skies and warm temps. After the long lay-off, the cars looked well prepared, polished, and ready to go!
While speaking with Jim Karamanis (Jefferson 500 co-chair) on Friday, he shared with me a few event details from earlier in the week. Wednesday and Thursday featured the VRG Driving School, under the direction of Denny Austin (Chief Instructor). Karamanis noted how encouraging it was to see so many younger drivers in the school, many of whom are 2nd and 3rd generation in the VRG family of racers. This year’s graduating class of 32 drivers was their largest ever. Thursday also featured practice sessions for all of the VRG race groups. The day concluded with a track walk directed by Peter Krause (VRG Driving Instructor). The participation fee involved a contribution of beer for the track workers. I’d say that was suds well spent!
To highlight the excitement and enthusiasm of a new racing season VRG launched their new logo/branding in April. I spoke with John Wood (VRG Vice President), and Krisjan Berzins (in charge of VRG “Merch”) about the concept and evolution of the new look. Wood noted that they were lucky to run a few events in 2020 (Lime Rock, Watkins Glen, and the Turkey Bowl at Summit Point), and while at Lime Rock they started to have the discussion of rebranding, which lead to the conversation, “what are we all about?” Berzins stated the brainstorming process was a very spontaneous and collaborative effort.
John Wood noted that he, like all VRG members, got involved with vintage racing because of cars, “it starts with cool cars.” He added the club puts an emphasis on driver orientation, teaching car control on the track, wheel to wheel discipline, and respecting each other. Wood explained, “we’re here to have fun with an emphasis on safe racing”. Finally, he said that the VRG community offers the opportunity to foster meaningful relationships and make “great friends”. Adding, “VRG’s identity says it all in six words: Cool Cars/Safe Racing/Great Friends”.
Krisjan Berzins led the effort to improve the VRG branded clothing line, and as a result was put in charge of “Merch”, previously known as their regalia. Berzins noted he took the lessons learned from running his landscape business to appreciate the value of a neat and clean uniform look. VRG workers now have bright green, high visibility shirts, which aids recognizability in their availability and support to members. The new logo is a natural progression and evolution of the VRG letters, accentuated by the bright green highlights. Berzins noted that VRG will always have their original logo for future use as a heritage theme.
The weekend’s schedule promised non-stop on-track activity with a record 258 entrees descending upon Summit Point for another VRG classic! The 2021 Jefferson 500 race groups were set as follows: (Group 7) Phil Hill Cup/Formula Ford Challenge Series, (Group 6) Charlie Gibson Trophy/Sports Racers & Non-FFCS Open Wheel, (Group 5) Donohue Cup/Production & Special through ‘60, (Group 4) Lola Cup/Small Bore under 1.3L & Formula Vee, (Group 3) Marlboro Cup/Small Bore over 1.3L, (Group 2) Cunningham Cup/Big Bore, (Group 1) Wyer Cup/IMSA-SCCA 2.5 Class B Reunion Racers.
The sprint races began Friday afternoon with Group 7 taking to the track, eager to get things started on a beautiful day for racing. Thomas Gaffney (#6) started on pole and took the early lead. The race was black flagged on lap 3 due to multiple cars off course in turn 3. Upon the restart it was Scott Fairchild (#120) in his Zink Z-10 that took command of the race, with Doug Meis (#27) and Gaffney rounding out the podium. The Saturday sprint for Group 7 was dominated by Gaffney (#6) in his Lola T-342. The fight for second place was a pitched battle between Wayne Nicolette (#2) and Doug Meis (#27). Meis briefly held second place on the penultimate lap, only to have it snatched back by Nicolette at the checkered flag.
Group 6 witnessed a tour-de-force performance by Justin Frick (#09) in Friday’s sprint race. Piloting his Indy Lights Lola T97/20, Frick’s commanding pace left his competitors far behind in his mirrors. Impressive as it was, he did not last till the finish. Ultimately it was Colin Thompson (#11) who grabbed the win in his Lola T88/90. Rob Sherwood (#05) and Jeremy Treadway (#12) followed closely behind and rounded out the top finishers. Saturday’s sprint featured a heated family battle between the red Lolas of John Thompson (#14) and his son Colin Thompson (#11), with John holding the lead in the early laps. Colin passed his father on lap five and held on for the win. Rob Sherwood (#05) had another strong showing and claimed third spot.
The Group 5 sprint races offered fierce competition between front-runners Michael Oritt (82) in a Ginetta G-4 and Ralph Salomon (#88) in a Bobsy SR2. Friday’s race saw Oritt setting the pace for the first four laps. Salomon then overtook for the lead and held his position till lap nine when he had to pull into the pits with an issue. With the pressure off Oritt easily cruised to the win, with J. Richard Schnabel (#284) and John Styduhar (#9) taking second and third respectively. The Oritt/Salomon battle resumed on Saturday with an entertaining battle that featured multiple lead changes between these drivers. Salomon grabbed the lead once more on the final lap and held on for a thrilling win. Vic Schuster (#57) held on firmly to third position throughout the race.
Each of the Group 4 sprint races were shortened due to multiple cars having off road excursions and the time it took for the safety and support crews to clear the track. But, while there was action, it was David Gussack (#88) who took both wins in a Triumph Spitfire. In Friday’s race a close battle for second place was won by Peter Carroll (#55) who had a spirited dice with Tom Brown (#18). Gussack’s win on Saturday was made interesting in the closing stages from a charging Kent Bain (#69). Peter Uzdavinis (#25) claimed third spot in a close battle with Carroll (#55).
Friday’s sprint for Group 3 delivered an inspired drive by race winner Chris De Minco (#48) in a Mallock Mk 11B. Having started on pole position, De Minco fell back to fifth place at the end of the first lap. He then charged through the field taking fourth position on lap 2, third position on lap 3, second position on lap 5, and ultimately the lead on lap 8 of the ten-lap event. Henry Frye (#29) who held the early lead finished second, while William Bartlett (#37) finished in third position. Frye and Bartlett renewed their podium battle for the Saturday sprint race. This time it was William Bartlett (#37) driving a Lotus Super 7 who lead from start to finish, with Frye (#29) breathing down his neck lap after lap. Erich Stahlman (#87) was the best of the rest and brought home a strong third place finish.
Group 2 presented an impressive display of power and speed. Two cars in particular were in a league of their own. Hobart Buppert (#82) unleashed his beautiful Lola T70 Mk3B and stormed away from the field winning both sprint races. Not to be outdone, Phil Meaney (#81) matched Buppert lap for lap in his sleek Gropa/Chevron CMC 11, capturing second place in both races. Christopher Zappa (#29) placed third on Friday while John Delane (#8) took honors on Saturday.
The Friday sprint race for Group 1 was a hard charging affair, even though race positions never changed throughout. John Baucom (#86) took a commanding victory behind the wheel of his Fiat 124 Coupe. David Lebrun (#67) and Dave Nicholas (#60) rounded out the podium with strong performances. Baucom (#86) also won the Saturday sprint, followed by Lebrun (#67), in a race that was stopped briefly for cars off track. Once the track was cleared and returned to green Vince Vaccaro (#199) held off a train of cars to claim third position.
The 2021 Jefferson 500 Feature Races took place on Saturday afternoon, and if the sprint races were any measure, these contests promised to be classics. A field of 38 cars took the green flag for the Group 7/Phil Hill Cup Feature Race. Thomas Gaffney (#6) led from start to finish in his Lola T-342. In the early stages of the race Gaffney held off the charge of Stefan Vapaa (#97). Doug Voss (#46) climbed through the field and began challenging Vapaa for second place at the mid-way point of the race. With two laps to go Voss captured second place and held on till the checkered flag. The top eight finishers crossed the finish line within 5 seconds of each other. A great start to the afternoon!
Next up on the schedule came the Group 6/Charlie Gibson Trophy race. This pitted teammates versus one another, and also within the family. Colin Thompson (#11) and his father John Thompson (#14) were stuck like glue together for 12 thrilling laps. Colin started from pole position in his Lola T88/90 but gave up the lead on the first lap. He hounded John relentlessly, then finally on lap 8 grabbed the lead and held on for the victory. David Gussack (#5) rounded out the podium with a strong third place finish, three seconds back.
The Group 5/Donohue Cup provided edge-of-the-seat racing with a thrilling pass for the lead at the checkered flag. Ralph Salomon (#88) started the race in fourth position in his Bobsy SR2, and by the end of the first lap he was battling Michael Oritt (#82) for the lead. Just as their battle was heating up the race was stopped on lap 3 due to multiple cars stranded off track and in an unsafe position. Once the track was cleared the race resumed, along with its intensity. Salomon and Oritt exchanged the lead multiple times, with Oritt in the lead heading towards the checkered flag. Salomon pulled off a daring pass for the win right at the line, and with .0001 of a second to spare. Amazing! Harvey Parke (#92) rounded out the podium finishing in third place.
The Group 4/Lola Cup race was seemingly over as soon as it started. Which is too bad because each of the sprint races for Group 4 were also shortened affairs due to cars being off track. But in this case the stoppage on lap four was because of a significant amount of oil put down in turn 9 which required significant time to clean-up. For what it’s worth the early laps of the race were setting the stage for an entertaining battle. Ultimately, David Gussack (#88) was declared the winner in his Triumph Spitfire. Peter Uzdavinis (#25) and Andrew Moore (#79) claimed second and third places respectively.
After a lengthy clean-up process the Group 3/Marlboro Cup race rekindled the intensity and excitement that had been on display all weekend. 37 cars took the green flag with William Bartlett (#37) leading the way. Bartlett held a comfortable lead through the first four laps, but then started getting pressure from Henry Frye (#29) in his Triumph TR250. For two laps Bartlett held Frye at bay, until lap seven when Frye seized the lead. Bartlett retook the lead and held for laps eight and nine. Frye used the final lap to set-up the pass for the win and took the checkered flag, edging Bartlett by a nose. Kenny Williamson (#27) had a quiet but strong race as he worked his way up from seventh starting position to finish in third place.
Next up it was the Group 2/Cunningham Cup racers that took to the track, and it was Hobart Buppert (#82) in his Lola T70 Mk3B that stormed away at the drop of the green flag and never looked back. He crossed the finish line eleven laps later and 12 seconds clear of second place finisher Phil Meany (#81). The power of Buppert’s Lola was impressive, and his smooth driving style never put a wheel wrong. John Delane (#8) rounded out the podium in third position.
The packed Saturday schedule concluded with the Group 1/Wyer Cup race. An early-stage battle for the lead between John Baucom (#86) and Andre Henke (#6) came to its unfortunate conclusion on lap three when both cars went off track. The race was stopped at that point until the cars were safely removed by the safety crew. The race resumed and we were treated to a green/white/checkered finish. David Lebrun (#67) driving his Alfa Romeo GTV crossed the line 1.6 seconds clear of Thaddeus Pace (#3). Raymond Nichols (#44) led a group of close pursuers across the finish line for a strong third place finish.
The Jefferson 500 weekend concluded with three morning enduros: Dan Gurney Enduro (Groups #6, #7 – open wheel only), Bill Scott Enduro (Groups #3, #4, #5), Brian Redman Enduro (Groups #1, #2, #6 – closed wheel only). The decision by VRG to wrap-up track activity by noon was applauded by its members and resulted in healthy grid numbers for the three endurance races. In summary, Wayne Nicolette (#2) drove his Lola T-340 to victory in Dan Gurney Enduro; Tom Upshur (#83) took the checkered flag in the Bill Scott Enduro piloting his Lotus Europa; and David Gussack (#5) closed out the racing activity with the win in the Brian Redman Enduro behind the wheel of his Lola T91/90.
And just like that the 2021 Vintage Racer Group (VRG) Jefferson 500 was in the books. The electric and upbeat atmosphere surrounding the event was real and contagious. The cars looked great, everyone enjoyed being back on track, and most importantly reuniting and spending time with old friends. Driving home Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t help but think that John Wood (VRG VP), nailed it when he said, “VRG’s identity says it all in six words: Cool Cars/Safe Racing/Great Friends”. See you in 2022!
DRIVEN: The Racing Photography of Jesse Alexander 1954-1962
By Jesse Alexander, Forward by Stirling Moss; Publish Date: 2000; Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC, Hardcover, 144 pages
The twelfth and final book review of the year captures the spectacle and spirit of Formula 1 and sports car racing through the lens of an expert photographer. DRIVEN: The Racing Photography of Jesse Alexander 1954-1962 covers a golden age of auto racing. Jesse Alexander’s personal connection with the racing community, his love of the cars, the people, and the thrilling atmosphere is masterfully presented through his masterful photography.
The book covers a particularly dangerous era of racing, and the images effectively convey the triumph and tragedy associated with risking it all. Portraits of Jim Clark, Louis Chiron, Piero Taruffi, Wolfgang von Trips, Phil Hill, Stirling Moss, etc. capture the toil and sweat of grueling competition. Photographs from historic tracks such as Monaco, Reims, Targa Florio, Nurburgring, Monza, Le Mans, etc. illustrate the unique variety of racetracks, each with their own character and potential deadly hazards. Photographs of on-track competition present a period of transition from rear engine Formula 1 cars to the current rear engine configuration. Safety features for that period were lacking by today’s standards, fueling the admiration of bravery and risk taken by the drivers.
DRIVEN: The Racing Photography of Jesse Alexander 1954-1962 is filled with impressively lush black and white photographs. The design layout is neat and simple and presents the photographs chronologically by year. The images stand-alone without text which allows the viewer to absorb and concentrate on the subject matter. The book concludes with a review section of thumbnail prints with an image-by-image description statement by Alexander, detailing the circumstances involved with each photograph.
I came across this book at an antique shop. It seemed out of place up on the dusty bookshelf, and I’m not sure the storekeeper knew exactly what he had because it was priced ridiculously low. I couldn’t believe my luck. It was in perfect condition, and I couldn’t pay for it fast enough. Sometimes the stars align, and you discover what I like to call ‘a diamond in the rough’! I like it when that happens! Let’s hope 2021 brings us all some good fortune, good health, and a positive step back towards normalcy. Happy New Year everyone!
By Tim Nicholson, illustrations by John (A.J.) Stokes; Publish Date: 1970; Publisher: American Heritage Press (New York), Hardcover, 137 pages
The eleventh book in my review series is one that could very well be categorized in the graphic art section of your local bookstore. Car Badges of the World is a neatly presented overview of worldwide car manufacturing logos, badges, and crests. The book was written by Tim Nicholson and beautifully illustrated by John (A.J.) Stokes.
The book is organized alphabetically by country, and then alphabetically by manufacturer within each country. Each double-page spread displays two car manufacturer graphic identities on the right with the corresponding descriptions on the left. Each description provides a brief historical perspective on the manufacturer with added insight into the concept and development of the graphic identity.
I marvel at the unique direction each manufacturer took to develop their look. The designs from this 1970 collection look much different from what we see on the road today. In the fifty years since Car Badges of the World was released, car manufacturer graphic identity badges have become more refined and, in many ways, rather abstract. Yet, for car brands such as Porsche, BMW, Ford, Chevrolet, Aston Martin, Bentley, Rolls Royce, Mercedes Benz, Alfa Romeo, and Ferrari, the evolution has been much more subtle, keeping their iconic brand identity intact.
I am so glad that I came across this book. One brief glance through the pages told me that it was meant for my collection. I love it when that happens!
By Lois Lenski; Publish Date: 1934, this edition published in 1946; Publisher: Oxford University Press, Hardcover, 48 pages
During the process of collecting vintage automotive/motor racing books it’s not uncommon to come across a range of books written for children. But it’s a special day to come across an old classic. The tenth book in my review series is a gem! The Little Autoby Lois Lenski is a charming story about Mr. Small and his little Auto. It also serves as a basic introduction to the automobile for children, illustrating the responsibility and care of the little Auto.
For most children their family automobile is just a means of travel to school or other family activity. The care and function of an automobile is not of their concern and is sometimes a mystery. This book serves as a simple introduction to the joy and satisfaction an automobile brings to people. It also rightly highlights the responsibility involved with its care and upkeep.
Mr. Small is shown taking care of the little Auto by changing the oil, pumping up the tires, putting water in the radiator, taking a drive, tooting the horn as a warning to some ducks and chickens, going up and down hills, obeying the traffic signals and signs, changing a flat tire, and finally a wash and wax. Mr. Small loves the experience of owning and caring for his little Auto. The story is a wonderful lesson of taking responsibility for something so important and special.
The book was produced by world renown author and illustrator Lois Lenski. Throughout her amazing career the Mr. Small series of books may well be the most beloved. The illustrations showcase her distinctive signature style, and the layout of the book is punctuated by simple and informative storytelling.
The Little Auto sits proudly on my bookcase shelves alongside books on Formula 1, Le Mans, Indianapolis, and countless biographies. The story of automobiles starts somewhere…Mr. Small does that so well.
Photography by Bernard and Paul-Henri Cahier, text by Xavier Chimits; Publish Date: 2008; Publisher: Motorbooks/MBI Publishing Company (Minneapolis), Hardback, 224 pages
The ninth book in my review series is Grand Prix Racers – Portraits of Speed. This is a beautiful collection of black and white photography by Bernard Cahier and his son Paul-Henri. The Cahier family has chronicled the Formula One World Championship since its inaugural race at Silverstone, England, in 1950.
The images were chosen to represent each period of Formula 1. The book is organized in six sections, determined by the drivers’ shared personality and driving traits. There are 12 drivers in each section for a total of 72 in the study. It’s a fascinating presentation capturing the personality, focus, magnetism, determination, and elusive character of a Formula 1 Grand Prix driver. Their unique make-up of talent and skill defines their inclusion in this “elite brotherhood”.
Some of my favorite images are as follows…The Stylists: a close-up of Jim Clark with the impression of his goggles still visible on his cheeks and forehead; The Tenacious Ones: a photographic composition of Jo Siffert, with his distinctive helmet, navigating a high-speed corner; The Romantics: the carefree nature and expression of Mike Hawthorn; The Scientists: the grizzled look of Stirling Moss post-race, leaning on his car with a soda; The Acrobats: a portrait that captures the air of nobility and confidence of Wolfgang von Trips; and The Tough Ones: a candid photograph of Denny Hulme with a flower in his mouth.
Grand Prix Racers captures the power of black and white photography. This collection of portraiture serves as an inspiration for any photographer hoping to capture the essence of their subject. I encourage everyone to include it in their collection.
Jim Clark at the wheel: The world motor racing champion’s own story
By Jim Clark; Publish Date: 1966; Publisher: Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster (New York), Paperback, 174 pages
The eighth book in my review series is Jim Clark at the wheel, by World Champion Jim Clark. Written at the time he was reaching the pinnacle of the sport, Clark tells the story of his beginnings on the family farm in Fife, Scotland, then climbing through the various levels of racing to ultimately becoming an international grand prix champion.
Jim Clark writes in-depth about his relationship with constructor and Lotus team owner, Colin Chapman. He also discusses his personal philosophy and approach to driving. Clark’s legacy is that of a precise, tactical, and measured driver. His level of success and achievements have consistently placed him in the conversation about who is the greatest Formula 1 driver ever.
The book chronicles Clark’s F1 career up through his 1963 World Championship. He also discusses his fascination with racing in America, and his exploits at Indianapolis. He finished 2nd in 1963 to Parnelli Jones in a somewhat controversial finish but left his mark by claiming rookie of the year honors. A publisher’s note at the end of the final chapter, just prior to the book’s release, lists Clark’s 1965 Indianapolis 500 win and 2nd F1 World Championship.
I found the most fascinating part of the book was his first-hand account of the 1961 accident at Monza which killed Ferrari driver Wolfgang von Trips. Not only had Clark been involved in the 2-car fatal crash of a friend, but he also had to endure the chaotic aftermath in which Italian officials were determined to place blame. The incident and legal inquiry led him to question the risks involved with racing and possibly leave the sport. Clark overcame these challenges and never lost belief in himself and his abilities.
The book concludes with an appendix of statistics outlining his full driving record, achievements, and awards. It’s an impressive twenty-two pages of greatness.
Finally, I have to make mention of the cover art illustration for this book. It’s simply stunning. I was surprised that there was no attribution to the artist or a listing of a name. I could see a print of that beautiful cover art nicely framed and mounted someday on my office wall. The search continues!
Jim Clark at the wheel was written years before his untimely death in 1968. It’s a personal account of his ongoing career, along with thoughts on his driving style and approach to racing. I had this book years ago as a kid and was delighted to find another copy during one of my used bookstore searches. It’s a great book and deserves a place in any motor racing enthusiast’s library.
The Guinness Guide to International Motor Racing – A Complete Reference from Formula 1 to Touring Cars
By Peter Higham; Publish Date: 1995; Publisher: Motorbooks International Publishers & Wholesalers. (USA edition), Hardcover, 544 pages
The seventh book in my review series isThe Guinness Guide to International Motor Racing by Peter Higham. This was his first of many Formula 1/racing anthology books, and his attention to detail is impressive. I purchased the book shortly after it was released. Though there are countless other books from various authors that chronicle racing statistics and season reviews, this one seemed to have just the right mix of facts, statistics, photographs, diagrams, and biographical data to keep me captivated for long periods of time. And because of that it’s one of my go-to books I take with me while traveling.
This is an incredible collection of information on a range of racing series, to include: Formula 1, pre-war grand prix racing, Le Mans 24 Hours, Sports Cars World Championship, Indianapolis 500, IndyCar, Can-Am, along with a whole host of other series and topics. Once you start to peruse the large volume of data held within it’s impossible to put it down. Every section presents a new surprise or new aspect of the sport I never considered before.
Near the end of the grand prix racing review there’s a fascinating section that provides incredible detail about the many World Championship Grand Prix Manufacturers, ranging from AFM (Alex von Falkenhausen Motorenbau) to Zakspeed. Some manufacturers barely stayed around long enough for a cup of coffee, while others listed are the revered grand names in racing history. For example, AFM is listed to have competed in four grand prix, with the best result of 14th in the 1953 Italian GP with legendary driver Hans Stuck. The Zakspeed mark is credited with 53 grand prix started, with the best result of 5th in the 1987 San Marino GP with driver Martin Brundle. For a fun comparison and contrast, Ferrari has an amazing 536 starts, with wins by 30 different drivers.
There’s a chapter entitled Racing Around The World, which focuses on 33 countries with diagrams and various configurations of 130 different racetracks. For example, the Silverstone Circuit in England, originally a World War II bomber airfield for the RAF is shown to have evolved through six different variations from 1949 onward. The Circuit de la Sarthe, better known as Le Mans is illustrated through five course configurations dating from 1921. Each of these track evolutions is described with interesting facts and details.
The final section, Drivers A-Z, highlights the major achievements of 1,587 drivers, from Rauno Aaltonen (Finland, DOB January 17, 1938) to Ricardo Zunino (Argentina, DOB April 13, 1949). “Mr. Le Mans” Tom Kristensen (Denmark, DOB July 7, 1967) is listed as having won the 1991 German F3 Championship and the 1993 Japanese F3 Championship. One has to smile and remember that books such as these are like time capsules. History had not yet caught up with Kristensen’s staggering record of nine wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
I am so glad that The Guinness Guide to International Motor Racing is part of my book collection. It doesn’t seem to stay on the shelf for long before it’s back on the side table, once again easily accessible for race-day reference. It has never failed to provide me with countless hours of enjoyment, and I’m sure will continue to do so long into the future.
Moments That Made Racing History (Modern Sports Car Series)
By Rodney Walkerley; Publish Date: 1959; Publisher: Sports Car Press LTD. (New York), Hardcover, 111 pages
The sixth book in my review series, Moments That Made Racing History by Rodney Walkerley, was found in the window display of a small antique store I was visiting for the first time. It caught my eye immediately, and was clearly a case in which you COULD judge a book by its cover. Something just told me this was the style of book I had been looking for, and I was right.
The book features a collection of stories that chronicle nine race events in which a crucial and decisive moment marked its place in motor racing history. Motor racing journalist and former Sports Editor of The Motor magazine, Rodney Walkerley, gives an enlightened and entertaining account of these memorable events, which include: 1902 Gordon-Bennett Trophy (Paris to Innsbruck), 1933 Tourist Trophy (Ards Circuit, Northern Ireland), 1936 J.C.C International Trophy (Brooklands, England), 1947 Land Speed Record (Bonneville, United States), 1937 Donington Grand Prix (Donington, England), 1949 Grand Prix of France (Rheims, France), 1957 Grand Prix of Europe (Aintree Circuit, Merseyside, England), 1951 International Trophy (Silverstone, England), and the 1957 German Grand Prix (Nurburgring, Germany).
Virtually all of the events described in the book were new to me and I was captivated by the flavor and style of Walkerley’s vivid race descriptions. I was very familiar with the final story, as it told of the heroic drive by Juan Manuel Fangio at the Nurburgring in 1957; a gripping tale of his tenacity and will to win, driving his car beyond the limits thought possible for the treacherous 14-mile German circuit. He famously stated afterwards, “I will never drive like that again”. This performance is one reason why many consider Fangio to be the greatest driver of all-time.
The exciting stories in the book are also accompanied by numerous historical photographs, and handsomely crafted illustrations (see cover photo) by George Lane, long-time artist for The Motor magazine, from the 1930’s through to the 1960’s.
Moments That Made Racing Historyhas inspired me to learn more about historic racetracks such as Brooklands and Rheims, along with rekindling my fascination with the history of the land speed record. For being only 111 pages, this beautifully illustrated book is packed with racing drama and excitement. Proof positive that you CAN judge a book by its cover.
A.J. – The Life of America’s Greatest Race Car Driver
By A.J. Foyt with William Neely; Publish Date: 1983; Publisher: Times Books, Hardcover, 234 pages
It’s Memorial Day Sunday 2020, and for as long as I can remember I’ve planned my weekend, and this day in particular around the Indy 500. It’s something my lovely wife has accepted and put up with over the years. But this year feels a bit hollow and empty knowing that the greatest race in the world has been postponed…not for a day or two because of rain, but because of the Covid-19 Pandemic. It’s crazy and uncertain times we live in for sure.
That being said I felt that the fifth book in my review series should honor the Memorial Day classic, so I’ve chosen A.J. – The Life of America’s Greatest Race Car Driver, by A.J. Foyt with William Neely. The name A.J. Foyt is synonymous with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500. He was the first of the 4-time winners of the race. Drivers Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears later joined that exclusive club. A.J. Foyt also holds the distinction of being the last person to win the race in a front-engine roadster, and is the only driver to win the Indy 500 in both styles of car (Front engine roadster: 1961 and 1964, rear-engine: 1967, 1977).
This is a unique autobiography, in that it does not chronicle in detail his numerous race wins and championships, but instead focuses mainly on what it took to achieve these successes. A.J. Foyt tells us about his family, the relationship with his father, his determination to win and his undying competitiveness. The reader is swept through the book with his numerous and often humorous anecdotal stories, describing what life was like on the climb to the top. What is abundantly clear is that A.J. Foyt was relentless in his pursuit of wins, championships and the ultimate prize, the Indianapolis 500.
I was fortunate to see four Indy 500 races in the 80’s (1980-1983). Though A.J. Foyt did not win any of those, he received by far the loudest and most lasting applause during the pre-race introductions. He sat on the outside of the front row in 1981 and 1982. It was a thrill to be able to see him race at the famed speedway.
I highly recommend A.J. – The Life of America’s Greatest Race Car Driver. It’s a clear and candid portrait of a racer driven to achieve greatness. I’m so glad I found this book at my local used book warehouse. I knew my collection wouldn’t be complete unless it included a book about the one and only A.J. Foyt.