Quick Reads: The Best Books About Race Cars

By Matt Bubbers

Chequered flags finally began dropping again this past summer as racing series around the world restarted following a COVID-19-enforced hiatus. In most cases, however, spectators still weren’t allowed into the grandstands. If you’re missing the smell of motor oil and burnt rubber, reading these great books about motorsport are the next best thing to being there.

How to Build a Car: The Autobiography of the World’s Greatest Formula 1 Designer by Adrian Newey
A legend of Formula 1 car racing, Adrian Newey has designed many championship-winning cars over a decades-long career. His autobiography includes stories of working with the world’s greatest drivers, tales of a childhood obsessed with all things automotive and details on how he invented some ingenious rule-bending engineering solutions—plus sketches of a number of his unique designs.

Choice quote: “When Kowalski slapped his Dodge Charger into fifth and accelerated away from the cops in Vanishing Point, I yelled in amazement, ‘He’s got another gear!’ and then slid down in my seat as what felt like the whole of the cinema turned to glare at me.”

The Brown Bullet: Rajo Jack’s Drive to Integrate Auto Racing by Bill Poehler
At a time when anyone who wasn’t white and male was barred from motorsport, a Black man named Dewey Gatson, a.k.a. Rajo Jack, worked his way up the ranks of California’s outlaw racing scene. Through exhaustive research, investigative journalist Bill Poehler tells the story of this mostly forgotten racer who broke records—and cultural barriers.

Choice quote: “Rajo decided he would build the lightest, most nimble racer possible. With little engineering knowledge and no training, he designed the car as a bobtail, with no tail tank and the back of the car ending just behind the seat.”

Your new favourite books by Alberta authors

Chasing Checkers by Christopher Hinchcliffe
Christopher Hinchcliffe knows better than most how much work, struggle and heart it takes to become a professional racer. His brother is Canadian IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe. This young adult novel follows a would-be driver’s journey from go-karts to the professional circuit. It’s a must-read for budding young racers.

Choice quote: “Today, his seventeenth birthday, Teddy found himself sitting in a brand-new 145-horsepower Formula 2000. It felt like an oven. The sun was beating down hard, baking the asphalt beneath the car. The rumbling engine directly behind his seat warmed his back.”

Janet Guthrie: A Life at Full Throttle by Janet Guthrie
Guthrie was the first woman to qualify for and enter the ferocious Indianapolis 500. As a NASCAR driver, she beat out legends like Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty, which shouldn’t be too surprising considering she was also a pilot, a flight instructor and an aerospace engineer. It seems there’s nothing Janet Guthrie can’t do, including write: her memoir is brilliantly composed and utterly compelling.

Choice quote: “A woman might be a reporter, a photographer, a timer/scorer, she might own the race car—but she couldn’t get near it at any time for any reason. A woman on the track itself was unthinkable.”

Book drive: Calgary poet Bertrand Bickersteth‘s debut collection

Faster: How a Jewish Driver, an American Heiress, and a Legendary Car Beat Hitler’s Best by Neal Bascomb
This book tells the sort of unlikely, thrilling—and true—underdog story that’s crying out to be made into a movie. Hitler wanted Germany to dominate Grand Prix racing in the 1930s, but three unlikely misfits upset his plans, dealing a major symbolic blow to the Nazis.

Choice quote: “The tale of René Dreyfus, his odd little Delahaye race car, and their champion Lucy Schell was one of the stories that Hitler would have liked struck from the books. This is its telling.”

Extra-credit reading
Stealing Speed: The Biggest Spy Scandal in Motorsport History by Mat Oxley

The Chequered Past: Sports Car Racing and Rallying in Canada, 1951–1991 by David Charters

Flat Out, Flat Broke: The Original Stig by Perry McCarthy

Driving with the Devil: Southern Moonshine, Detroit Wheels, and the Birth of NASCAR by Neal Thompson

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