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American racing historians: The 1930s-40s


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#1 racinggeek

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Posted 17 May 2021 - 02:15

Asking for help to add to my library.

 

I'm interested in learning more about racing in America between the wars, particularly the 1930s. and immediately after WWII. There's plenty of literature out there on the Golden Age of the '20s, but I'm not sure what's out there that provides a solid history of American racing during and after the Depression and on through WWII. I'm especially interested in what would have been available for racers trying to make a living at it, whether in non-AAA "big car" programs, sprint cars, and such, but also if other genres, such as sports cars, were starting take hold during that time.

 

So, what books are available that best tell those stories? I've read that the Rex Mays bio "Pole Position" goes into the state of racing in general during Mays' time but I haven't had access to a copy to be able to page through it. Is it a possibility, or are there better recommendations? Lotsa photos are good, too.

 

Thanks for the help. I know it's maybe a bit of a nebulous request, so I appreciate whatever directions in which I can be pointed.



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#2 Rupertlt1

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Posted 17 May 2021 - 05:45

Lots of material on TNF.

 

For books see: https://forums.autos...-4#entry9038231

 

Also: https://www.hemmings...d-literature-19

 

More here: https://forums.autos...y-the-colliers/

 

RGDS RLT 


Edited by Rupertlt1, 17 May 2021 - 05:57.


#3 Vitesse2

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Posted 17 May 2021 - 07:31

Other books to consider - although you may need very deep pockets for some of them:

 

Damn Few Died In Bed: My Life In Auto Racing by Andrew G. Dunlop as told to Thomas F. Saal (Racemaker Press, 2007) OP but available on Kindle

 

Brian T Boettcher: The Indianapolis 500, a History - Vol One: Resurrection and Blue Crowns. (Constant Velocity Publishing, Columbus, OH/Smashwords eBooks, Los Gatos, CA, 2010)

 

Griff Borgeson: The Last Great Miller: the four-wheel drive Indy car. (Society of Automotive Engineers, Warrendale, PA, 2000)

 

Mark L. Dees – The Miller Dynasty (2nd edition). Hippodrome, Moorpark, CA, 1994

 

Stanley L DeGeer – The Pikes Peak Race 1916-1990. Peak Publishing, Albuquerque, NM, 1991

 

Don Radbruch – Dirt Track Auto Racing, 1919-1941: A Pictorial History. McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2004

 

Edward V Rickenbacker – Rickenbacker: his autobiography. Prentice Hall 1967

 

Wilbur Shaw - Gentlemen, Start Your Engines. Coward-McCann, New York 1955/Bodley Head, London 1956 (the Bodley Head edition tends to be cheaper!)

 

Gordon Eliot White – Offenhauser. MBI, Osceola, IN, 1996

 

Brock Yates - Umbrella Mike. Thunder’s Mouth Press, New York, NY, 2006

 

Brock Yates - Vanderbilt Cup Race 1936 and 1937 Photo Archive. Iconografix, Osceola, IN, 1997



#4 Collombin

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Posted 17 May 2021 - 09:04

The Mays bio does a good job of setting the scene, and includes details of his revenues earned and expenses for most of the seasons. It has chapters on various other key characters in the sport at that time and is chock full of photos. The author was of course the same man who wrote the race by race accounts that appear in the Wallen books covering the 50s, 60s and 70s. Whilst this book by its nature doesn't quite do the same with the 30s and 40s, it does fill the void as well as any other book I know of.

#5 68targa

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Posted 17 May 2021 - 18:43

I would also add Driving with the Devil - Neal Thompson 2006 - Three Rivers Press. if you want something on the birth of Nascar from the Depression through to post war years.



#6 DCapps

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Posted 19 May 2021 - 11:55

I would also add Driving with the Devil - Neal Thompson 2006 - Three Rivers Press. if you want something on the birth of Nascar from the Depression through to post war years.

It a very good book to use for composting or recycling, since its actual value, in historical terms, is rather questionable. Then again, if you like fairy tales, fantasy, Southern fiction, and mythology, it might be right up your alley.



#7 68targa

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Posted 19 May 2021 - 12:35

It a very good book to use for composting or recycling, since its actual value, in historical terms, is rather questionable. Then again, if you like fairy tales, fantasy, Southern fiction, and mythology, it might be right up your alley.

Oh dear, that good. I was recommended this some years ago and not knowing much about Nascar origins I thought it quite a good read.  It would be helpful to have some idea where to look for a reliable history of this branch of the sport.



#8 Michael Ferner

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Posted 19 May 2021 - 15:56

I'm not really sure I quite get what you're after specifically, but a few (mostly affordable) suggestions are:

 

 

OUTLAW SPRINT CAR RACER by John Gerber

 

HARD TIMES HARD DRIVING by Richard Sharpless and John Way

 

THE BOBBY THE BABE AND ME by Earl Fabritz

 

VALLEY COUNTY THUNDER by Ray Valasek and Bob Mays (and perhaps, with a bit more focus on the postwar side, BIG CAR THUNDER VOL I by Mays, too)

 

RACING IN THE HEARTLAND by Ken Paulsen

 

THE GHOSTS OF JUNGLE PARK by Tom Williams

 

as well as the Don Radbruch and Tom Saal books mentioned by Richard (Vitesse) already.

 

Asking "what was available for racers trying to make a living at it", you are really left with Midget racing, as Stock car or even Sports car racing was, at the time, and even in its most rudimentary beginnings, very much in its infancy. Midgets however ran day and night in most every nook and cranny of the country, and were perfect if your aim was to go racing, make ends meet and have a good time. The so-called "Midget craze" started in about 1935 and lasted until right about 1950, totally dominating the public image of motor racing at the time as those little cars raced everywhere, from big horse racing tracks over baseball fields, drive-in theaters, stadiums, even townhalls to proper road racing tracks, and so often it made people sick after those initial fifteen years.

 

Good books about Midget racing are extremely rare, though, but a few biographies I have deal with the phenomenon as their subjects raced the little cars extensively. The following books are generally not very good, but relatively cheap I would think:

 

THE BILL SCHINDLER STORY by Nat Kleinfield

 

CALIFORNIA GOLD (about Troy Ruttman) by Bob Gates

 

TOMMY HINNERSHITZ by Gary Ludwig

 

NEVER LOOK BACK (about Johnnie Parsons) by Gary Delph and Charles Boulton



#9 Jim Thurman

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Posted 19 May 2021 - 19:55

 

Good books about Midget racing are extremely rare, though, 

 

What about "The Mighty Midgets" by Jack Fox or "Midget Auto Racing History Vol. 1 and 2" by Crocky Wright. Though both are sadly long out of print and likely fetch a princely sum.



#10 Jim Thurman

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Posted 19 May 2021 - 19:57

It a very good book to use for composting or recycling, since its actual value, in historical terms, is rather questionable. Then again, if you like fairy tales, fantasy, Southern fiction, and mythology, it might be right up your alley.

 

Don, at the time of its release, I recall you writing some positive comments about "Driving With The Devil", despite having some deeply serious misgivings. Have you had a reassessment?



#11 racinggeek

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Posted 19 May 2021 - 20:37

Thanks for the advice, all. I have the Offenhauser book by Mr. White, and it does offer a lot of seemingly well-researched and in-depth info on that period. Also have Yates' book on Mike Boyle, enjoyable read on a fascinating person. I'd heard about the Radbruch and Saal books but forgot about them, so thanks much for the reminder; I may have to go on a search now. ("Driving With the Devil" also is on my bookshelf, incidentally.)

 

To (hopefully) clarify my request, I was wondering what was available in book form that delved into what "professional" racers would have been able to race in the '30s and early '40s, after the Great Depression hit and the AAA Championship Trail more or less disintegrated, especially the Big Cars and if they had other venues besides Indy and the one or two other races on the AAA circuit until that rekindled after WWII. Which then led me to wonder if drivers and car owners made something resembling a living with sprints, midgets or other forms of racing that might have started to develop before the war, and if books existed that chronicled those developments.

 

Thanks again to all, and feel free to add to the list.



#12 DCapps

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Posted 20 May 2021 - 15:20

Don, at the time of its release, I recall you writing some positive comments about "Driving With The Devil", despite having some deeply serious misgivings. Have you had a reassessment?

Jim, Thompson does deserve credit for those things he did get correct, so credit where credit is due, but the several subsequent re-readings have simply reinforced the overall impression that he often did not let facts get in the way of the good stories and that the default mode to the moonshiner & stock car/NASCAR mythology negates what he did okay on. Well-written, of course, but so are many comic books.

 

Racinggeek, the Yates' Boyle book is another for the compost pile. As for Tom Saal, a very nice guy, and while an accepted "auto racing historian," not really much of a motor sport historian, I'm afraid. But, that is just me, of course. Michael Ferner has forgotten more about what you seem to be interested in than most "auto racing historians" ever knew in the first place. The book or books that you are looking for really do not exist for a large variety of reasons. There are bits and pieces of what you want floating around, like flotsam, but few books or articles have resulted. Dr. Randal Hall's, "Before NASCAR: The Corporate and Civic Promotion of Automobile Racing in the American South, 1903-1927," (https://www.ruf.rice...eforeNASCAR.pdf) or (https://web.archive.org/web/20151211010747/http://www.ruf.rice.edu:80/~rh/BeforeNASCAR.pdf) is the sort of article that would be a nice template for some of what you are perhaps looking for. Along with much of the history of most US motor sport, this is a period wide open for some decent scholarship, whether from the talented hobbyist historians or those lurking in the academe (with the former being far more likely to do something than the latter, of course).



#13 DCapps

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Posted 20 May 2021 - 16:35

I think that this recent comment by Jim sums this whole situation up quite well: "I just can't see spending so much time researching and writing for so little financial return."

 

More than a few authors delving into the motor sport/auto racing history have had that realization and moved on to other things.

 

This includes those who have been "successful," having books being published, but finding that the return on time invested in the process being very much in the negative numbers.

 

HDC



#14 lcbulldog

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Posted 22 May 2021 - 20:46

I recommend "The Rim Riders, The World's Fastest Racing Circuit" by Buzz Rose.  1935-1956.  It is about the Central States Racing Association, CSRA, which was formed by Norm Witte, Harry Gilchrist, Frank Funk, and others out of Dayton, Ohio.  The racing was primarily for the "big cars" but also included a midget division from 1939-1967.  Auto racing in the Midwest was in need of a sanctioning organization as an alternate to the AAA and the CSRA stepped in and filled that role.

 

I am not impartial as my dad was a steward and official in both divisions.  Dad never had a good thing to say about the AAA.

 

Mark



#15 Michael Ferner

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Posted 23 May 2021 - 08:46

What about "The Mighty Midgets" by Jack Fox or "Midget Auto Racing History Vol. 1 and 2" by Crocky Wright. Though both are sadly long out of print and likely fetch a princely sum.

 

I don't have those books, so I can't comment.



#16 Jim Thurman

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Posted 23 May 2021 - 17:18

I don't have those books, so I can't comment.

 

Fair enough, Michael, but neither do I!  :D I did however get to thumb through them at an automotive book store somewhere in the earlier part of the 00s/10s, and they seemed pretty good. The Fox book had been reprinted, but both it and the Wright book were already out of my price range even for the time.



#17 Jim Thurman

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Posted 23 May 2021 - 19:03

I think that this recent comment by Jim sums this whole situation up quite well: "I just can't see spending so much time researching and writing for so little financial return."

 

More than a few authors delving into the motor sport/auto racing history have had that realization and moved on to other things.

 

This includes those who have been "successful," having books being published, but finding that the return on time invested in the process being very much in the negative numbers.

 

To give context, since context matters, 99.9% of what I have done has been a labor of love. Most of what I still do is a labor of love. I've provided info to many authors, done a tremendous amount of research (which I enjoy) and have done some writing. The reward has been the satisfaction of getting things right in print and out in the public record, or at least attempting to, and being provided a copy of the book. If I could have, I would have devoted more of my life to auto racing history. I would have gone around the country, digging through microfilm and records, and interviewed drivers from earlier eras. Unfortunately, I've had to make a living, or something resembling it. And U.S. auto racing history doesn't pay the bills, as much as I wish it did. There are few publications left, and even fewer people left to talk to, which makes it rather impossible to do these stories now. I have a hard time getting paid pennies on the dollar per story when individual stories of this kind used to net three digit dollar amounts. There's a point where "labor of love" only goes so far.



#18 racinggeek

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Posted 09 June 2021 - 19:40

FYI, I ordered and have received the Rex Mays book by Schilling (thanks to the gift certificate from Coastal 181 that's been waiting to be spent since Christmas). Just a couple chapters in but so far, and from flipping through the pages upon its arrival, it looks like it'll cover a lot of the ground I was hoping to learn about. 

 

Thanks for all the suggestions -- Chris  



#19 guiporsche

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Posted 10 June 2021 - 07:54

Any comments on Pierce's Real NASCAR: White Lightning, Red Clay, and Big Bill France?

As for the difficulties of making a living from motorsport historical research...it's the same and ever more so for 'mainstream', academic historical research (and that includes whichever niche is trendy in a given moment).



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#20 DCapps

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Posted 10 June 2021 - 23:50

Any comments on Pierce's Real NASCAR: White Lightning, Red Clay, and Big Bill France?

As for the difficulties of making a living from motorsport historical research...it's the same and ever more so for 'mainstream', academic historical research (and that includes whichever niche is trendy in a given moment).

Something written almost a decade ago (https://speedreaders...ig-bill-france/), but I would still write something similar today. Another really excellent book on US stock car racing is, NASCAR Nation: A History of Stock Car Racing in the United States (Praeger, 2010) by Dr. Scott Beekman (disclosure, Scott is a friend of mine). From Moonshine to Madison Avenue: A Cultural History of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series (Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1997), by Dr Mark Howell (...another friend of mine) is another very good book about NASCAR/stock car racing in the USA. Dr. Richard Pillsbury, a former geography professor, has two great articles in Fast Food, Stock Cars & Rock-n-Roll (Rowman & Littlefield, 1995), edited by George Carney. Mark Howell and Dr. John D. Miller put together one of the few academic collections focused entirely on motor sport, Motorsports and American Culture: From Demolition Derbies to NASCAR (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014). There is also, Sport, Spectacle, and NASCAR Nation: Consumption and Cultural Politics of Neoliberalism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), edited by Dr. Joshua I. Newman and Dr. Michael D. Giardina.

 

The Fairmount Park Motor Races, 1908-1911 (McFarland, 2003), by Michael J. Seneca is an excellent book that I recommend, along with, Mad for Speed: The Racing Life of Joan Newton Cuneo (McFarland, 2013), by Dr. Elsa Nystrom (...again, a friend of mine).

 

A bookshelf of someone interested in US automotive history without, The Automobile in American History and Culture: A Reference Guide (Greenwood Press, 2001), by Dr. Michael L. Berger is a bookshelf with a void. I have been hoping for several years that someone would undertake an update, but so far...



#21 guiporsche

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Posted 11 June 2021 - 08:50

Thank you Don for the excellent bibliographical introduction! Apart from Beekman's all else was news to me. Meanwhile, I've ordered Pierce's book, others hopefully to come...