Years ago here in England when I tried to research the British Grand Prix, I presented myself expectantly to the Royal Automobile Club where I had an appointment to "view their records". I can still feel the somersault my stomach turned when the very nice chap there led me to a shelf on which stood bound volumes of 'The Motor', 'The Autocar' and 'Autosport'...duplicating the volumes on my shelf at home. Of genuine in-house records, they had NONE...
Wonderful, Doug! It precisely mirrors my feelings when I hear Mr. Printz (and many, many others) complaining about the "mess" that is the history of US auto racing!! "But you have all those wonderful AAA yearbooks and microfilmed documents, for crying out loud" is the usual gut reaction - we have never had anything the like in Europe until perhaps the Olivetti/Longines computer printouts of the eighties, basic and almost incomprehensible to the layman as they were. Ah, yes, I'm forgetting the "Yellow Books", when did they start? Early seventies? Official documentation of the FIA and/or CSI regarding events of the sixties or, for heaven's sake, the fifties, or even prewar years - oh my gosh, wouldn't we have almost literally killed
somebody for something like that???
Even today, we could use just a little "official" explanation about various items, like the European Championship of the thirties, the World Championship of the twenties, or whether there was a WC point reward for 6th place finishers in 1958 and/or 1959 - things few people, even "experts" ever thought about until TNF raised these issues over the last ten years or so. Yes, shelves of long-running print magazines solve one problem or the other, but not everything... why else would you have bothered to contact the RAC?!
I can still recall the excitement when I first heard of Paul Sheldon and his team doing the now legendary "Black Books". That was like blowing layers of dust from history! Sure, nobody is perfect, and it's easy to find fault with these books today, but to a starving man they were meat and drink back in the day. I gather it was much the same with Russ Catlin in the US and in the fifties, which is why I can understand John's frustration so well. Imagine, just for a minute, to find out that Paul Sheldon had invented
much of his "gold dust"...
There are quite a number of fundamental differences in European and US racing history, and it's something that is not at all obvious to "us", certainly not at first sight. I can say for myself that it took me years to really grasp these fundamentals. For one thing, auto racing in the US is a HUGE subject. When I started out researching Indy and the like, I might have guessed that 50 % of all racing, present and past, happened in the US and 50 % in the "rest of the world". By now, I'm convinced that the figures are more like 80 or 90 % for the US, believe it or not! There is just so much racing going on in this country, and has always been, it's a real culture shock! Just a few miles from where I am sitting right now, there is a US military airbase with adjacent housing, and quite naturally they have a speedway on their premises. I don't know much about it, but the presence of it alone makes one think. There are only two or three proper racing tracks in all of Germany, and I'm sort of privileged to live very "close" to the Nürburgring - less than an hour's drive. But it's only five minutes to the speedway at the airbase, which is exclusively for the amusement of the US military...
Secondly, there is not one powerful governing body for all of racing in the US like in all the rest of the world... there are dozens, if not hundreds! Sure, many of them do basically what we would call club meetings all the time, instead of grand gatherings of national or even international importance. But there have always been several with enough ambition and drive to challenge each other for local prominence, however big that "local" might be. To follow and even remotely understand the significance of the various groups is a challenge indeed - and it's a moving target to boot! Going hand in hand with that, there are a gazillion set of rules to follow if you are going to build and run a racing car. Formula 1, 2 and 3 racing cars, Group A, B and C production car classes - what a laugh! We've had several threads already about various interpretations of the basic Sprint Car or Super Modified specifications - and believe me, those are really BASIC racing categories - they differ from state to state, county to county, town to town. Yes, they may even be different for two tracks in the same neighbourhood, literally
And lastly, documentation by way of magazines or even newspapers has a long tradition of being inadequate, even more so than in Europe. National Speed Sport News notwithstanding, a magazine that has been around for 80 years, but even they can and have always been pretty much "provincial". What happened in, say, Iowa in the thirties would never cross the borders of that state unless it was reported by drivers or promoters themselves, each of them having their own "agenda". The best humus to grow mythology. And that
, precisely, is the biggest bugbear of US racing history! Now and then.