Book review by Richard Parks and photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz
The American Hot Rod, by Dean Batchelor is a hard-bound book published by Motorbooks International. Batchelor is a well-known and respected hot rodder who became a journalist, editor and writer. Batchelor co-wrote the book Cunningham, with Albert Bochroch. Dean also worked for Hop UP, Motor Life and Road and Track magazines from the 1950’s through the ‘70’s. His background in hot rodding and motorsports is substantial. The publisher is Motorbooks and they have a reputation for producing only first class and quality books on the car culture. The American Hot Rod measures 10 ¼ by 10 ¼ inches in size and has a high-quality cloth binding down the spine of the book. The dust cover jacket has a very appealing look to it and enhances the value of the book. Always take excellent care of the jacket, because it not only protects the book, but make it stand out. Otherwise the book’s cover is simply a solid blue and undistinguished. The American Hot Rod has 192 high-quality waxed pages, suitable to show the photographs at their best. There are 32 color photographs and another 243 in black and white and the variety and quality is excellent. In addition to the photographs, there are: 8 ads, one map, two charts, 16 program covers, 7 car club plaques, 11 membership cards, 2 timing tags, 7 pit passes to various events, 13 magazine covers and 3 drawings in the book. The book has a table of contents, a tribute to the author who passed away before the book could be published, a two page introduction, 13 chapters, a two page glossary of terms, a three page appendix and a two page index. The index could have been a bit more substantial, but it was satisfactory. The American Hot Rod was first published in 1995, but you might find copies at the Publisher or in book stores or on-line website outlets. The ISBN # is 0-87938-982-6. Motorbooks International is located at PO Box 2, 729 Prospect Avenue, Osceola, Wisconsin, 54020 and originally retailed for $29.95. Check eBay or Amazon.net to see if they have a used copy for sale.
I borrowed this book from my brother who inherited it from our late father, Wally Parks. Batchelor and our father were friends and I know that he valued this book as one of his prized possessions. My brother David is a member of the 200 MPH club and he finally held on tighter to this book than I did. He’s also bigger. The American Hot Rod is the book that I wished I could have written. Batchelor wrote from first hand experience and he knew the people that are portrayed in this history of the early dry lakes, many of whom went on to other forms of motorsport racing. The photographs are fantastic, but it is Batchelor’s captions that are thorough and complete. Indexing and captioning are often weak spots with authors, but here you can see Batchelor’s experience from his many years in the media. He brings to life the men and women who struggled to find their spot in land speed racing. It was a difficult and exhausting sport, and just to get to the lakes and return home safely was a victory. To make a run and earn a timing tag made a young man the talk of his neighborhood. I always look for books that have a bit of the origins of the sport that they are chronicling, and just as often I am disappointed, for they will have just a short introductory chapter. Landspeed Louise Ann Noeth and Robert Genat are two of my favorite authors on the subject of auto racing, especially land speed or straight-line racing. They give you a great introduction on the subjects they are writing about. Batchelor matches them easily and brings the past alive in a new way. Perhaps it was because he knew the early days of land speed racing and the men and women who are just names to us today. Names like Arnold Birner, Walter Nass and Orville “Snuffy” Welchel fill the book with people who are not household names today, but who were the movers and shakers of their generation.
I found the text so interesting that I had to pick up the book and reread it. Like a National Geographic magazine, the first thing I looked at was the photographs and captions, but then I found myself reading the text. Back and forth, first to the photos and then reading the text; the book was simply hypnotic. I began to go through and find all the names and faces of people who I knew as a youngster. The list went on and on and the reading brought back old memories of a time long gone. There is crossover appeal for The American Hot Rod. Its beautiful design, size and cover make it a lustrous coffee table book. The detailed history and style of its writing make it a very comfortable history. Then there is the racing, or more properly the time trials. The book also appeals simply to the hot rodder in all of us, the desire to tinker, work and improve on something, or to create something altogether new. Many of the photographs were new to me and I never thought that I would find pictures of people that I had only heard about or seen in a program. Ak Miller used to spin his irrepressible stories and drop names and nicknames in a quick, staccato fashion. Here’s a book that you can read that will bring to light the history of the dry lakes from the 1930’s through the ‘50’s, the heyday of land speed racing. Dean Batchelor’s The American Hot Rod is a book that needs to be in your library, along with the works of Genat, Noeth, Art Bagnall, Don Montgomery and other writers. I don’t use the word “best” to describe a book in comparison with other books. But, I will say that The American Hot Rod is not surpassed by any other book on the subject, not even Bagnall’s book on Roy Richter.
Gone Racin’ is at RNPARKS1@JUNO.COM.
You can pick up this book at www.amazon.com or other online outlets or have your favorite bookstore order it for you.