Friday, June 05, 2009

Book Review: Big Car Thunder, Vol II by Bob Mays

A few weeks ago (the ASCS Junction Motor Speedway May 22 race to be exact), historian, author, photographer, columnist, driver, race fan (all in no particular order) Bob Mays presented me with both volumes of Big Car Thunder, Sprint Car Racing on America’s State Fair Circuits asking me to write a review of the work for this site. I gladly obliged.

I’m choosing to start with Vol. II first. Reason being, it’s brand new (the first volume was released four years ago), and this book stands quite well on its own.

The book covers the “Big Car” era (Sprints as opposed to the supermodifieds that ruled the bullrings of the time) from 1963 to 1982, most of the volume covering the early portion of the time - when the form over function roll bars where lower than the driver’s crew cuts, IMCA sanctioned sprints and briefly midgets (!) and big state-fair half mile tracks hosted mega-shows with crowds in the tens of thousands, crowds larger for one race than many tracks today see in a year!

What’s inside: over 500 photos from tracks throughout the Midwest featuring racers like Joe Saldana, Jerry Richert, Thad Dosher, Gordon Woolley, Lloyd Beckman, Jan Opperman, and on and on. If they raced then, they’re there.

You’ll get great writing about the events, from the heydays of the BCRA and IMCA, to the eventual demise of the two groups as well as the other players such as the Mississippi Valley CC and the NSCA (that’s Natl. Speedways Contest Association to those weaned on sprints after 1985). Mays gives a recount painstakingly researched from archives, libraries, historical societies, all with the touch of a skilled writer and a passionate fan.

When Bob handed me the books, he asked for an “honest review.” Those who know me know I’m never at a loss when it comes to critique, so why will this review will sound like an ad?

Because it’s just that good. I don’t have a fault. Of late, I’ve become a jaded fan. But this book made me giddy, made me a fan again.

If you’ve seen any of Mays’ books, the first feeling that comes to my mind when picking it up is one of reverence. These books are works of art, texts bordering on sacred to the race fan. This is not the paperback, flimsy overviews of racing history stuffed between endless ghost-written NASCAR biographies in the local big-box bookstore. It’s far above that. The binding, paper, printing…all ooze quality and is the only appropriate presentation worthy of the painstaking research put into this 300+ page tome. You’re not holding a book, you’re holding history.

When I cracked open the book, my ADHD-riddled mind couldn’t figure where to start: the lavish amount of photos or the text written in the manner Mays is known for – one of meticulous detail livened by his love of the sport.

It doesn’t matter. The captions accompanying each photo are as informative as the anecdotes and accounts preceding them in the text. Black and white photos lend to the nostalgia while multiple color galleries give life to many of the characters recounted in the book.

And…I would pick up this book and tell you to start at any page…find the pictures of cars you recognize and start there. Don’t worry, you’ll go back to the beginning and read through like a normal book – you’ll have to, you’ll WANT to.

But here’s what happened to me and why I think your first pass through the book can begin anywhere. My happenstance start toward the back drew me into the entire world Mays recounts. Seeing a photo of Sonny Smyser’s 1982 NSCA victory at Eagle grabbed me for one reason – I WAS THERE! And, I wanted to go back. If you are young or new to the sport, don’t worry – you’ll make the connection quickly as many of the names are still active in the sport today.

That’s the magic of this book above all other historical accounts I’ve read: the photos, the text, it grabs you emotionally. Pick that point and learn the previous history and recount the time after. The beauty of this book (and Volume 1) is that through Mays’ work, many of us who weren’t around for this, or only for a small part, as in my case, it gives a connection to history, it gives an understanding to the passion of the race fan, the continuum that links all of the dirt-track racing culture together.

The sport has changed, but what Mays does is not lock us into the sentimental, but instead takes us through the evolution of the sport, and he recognizes and explains the reasons behind the evolution. To those who don’t get the passion of the sprint car fan, read this and you’ll understand.

ANYONE, whether you are a stock car, NASCAR, road-racer or any race fan needs to read this book, needs to buy this book and re-read it. Time machines don’t exist, but this is the closest I’ve ever been to experiencing the screaming Offy’s, knobby tires and the electricity of days gone by.

Thanks Bob, for the work you’ve done for the sport we love.

You can order the book from Fastrack Publishing for $59.95+ $10 shipping. Also are package deals for volume 1 and his book Valley County Thunder. A PDF format order form is available by clicking on the link below.

Order form


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