When auto racing was the pastime of insanely brave men

If you like to read about cars (and other transportation subjects), you’d do well to familiarize yourself with the books created by McFarland Publishing of Jefferson, North Carolina. Most of their titles are paperbacks, but they’re uniformly thick and crammed with information from authors who intimately know their subject matter. One of McFarland’s recent automotive releases is an unusual motorsports history that looks at American auto racing in the crazy years that paralleled World War I. It was an era of crudely overpowered race cars, dust-blinded fairgrounds horse tracks, a new breed of wooden speedways, and drivers in cloth helmets and glass goggles who risked death every time the engines fired.

Look at the driver in the book’s cover image, peering defiantly around the nose of a beastly, straight-axle competition machine. Auto Racing in the Shadow of the Great War is an exhaustive, 440-page recounting of American racing from 1915 to 1922, years when the sport was marked by booming publicity and constant technical innovation spurred by advances on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s a tale of how race cars and drivers (including the great Roscoe Sarles, shown in the cover photo of his Frontenac-Monroe) evolved in an environment of growing horsepower, dizzying speeds and an enthusiastic national audience looking for diversion from wartime travails. The advances made during these years would endure as cars grew sleeker, more powerful and even more dangerous as the 1920s continued. The author, Robert Dick, is based in Germany and is an authority on the technological history of this era. The book is crammed with period action and portrait photos, technical illustrations, engineering drawings, and the greats of early racing stride proudly through its pages. Anyone fascinated by early racing technology and its development will find this book beneficial. The price is $49.95.

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