Book review by Richard Parks, photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz
Sports car racing fans are in for a real treat in a book called American Sports Car Racing in the 1950’s, written by Michael T. Lynch, William Edgar and Ron Parravano. This is a hardcover, coffee table quality book, with an outstanding dust cover jacket. The book is 10 inches by 10 inches in size with 172 pages on the finest quality, heavy bond glossy paper. The book has extra thread holding the paper to the spine and is a sign of superior craftsmanship. The dust cover jacket shows Masten Gregory and Carroll Shelby at Palm Springs in 1955. Always keep your dust cover jackets as they enhance the value and quality of the books that you own. The publisher is MBI Publishing, 729 Prospect Avenue, Osceola, Wisconsin. There are 161 black and white photos, 51 color photos, three prints or drawings and four programs and posters. Some of the photos are full page and very impressive. There are only 212 photos but they are very clear and they help to support the story. You will find the photos to be a major component of the book. The text is impressive and well researched and written. There is a good index that is very accurate and historians will find it useful. The writers provide a comprehensive table of contents and an epilogue, which explains where all the main characters are today. There is also a very interesting and useful appendix where the race results are listed for the years 1947 through 1959. The appendix was compiled from the records of John von Neumann, John Edgar, Tony and Ron Parravano. Exactly how complete the appendix is cannot be determined but it is an interesting summation and I spent some time going over it to see who won at the various events over the years.
The appendix covers races at Palos Verdes, Van Nuys, Carrell Speedway, Tujunga, Goleta, Sandburg, Palm Springs, Carrera Panamericana Mexican Road race, Santa Ana, El Segundo, Pebble Beach, Buchanan Field, Reno, Torrey Pines, Golden Gate Park, Stockton, Elkhart Lake, Costa Mesa, Madera, Bergstrom, Phoenix, Bridgehampton, Offutt AFB, Chino, Moffitt, Nurburgring, Santa Barbara, Terminal Island, Stead AFB, March Field, Willow Springs, Bakersfield, Sebring, Supercortremaggiore, Santa Rosa, Seattle Seafair, Oulton Park, Salinas, Targa Florio, Sacramento, Caracas, Glendale, Nassau, Cumberland, Ft Worth, Pomona, Beverly, Santa Maria, Mt Washington, Giant’s Despair, Brynfan Tyddyn, San Diego, Braakneck, Paramount Ranch, Montgomery, Thompson, New Smyrna, Cuba, Avandaro, Hawaii, Hour Glass Field, Cotati, Eagle Mountain, Salt Lake, Lime Rock, Marlboro, Virginia, Gaisburg, La Forclaz, Riverside, Laguna Seca, Argentina 1000, Tracy, Vaca Valley, Minden, Del Mar, Watkins Glen, El Paso, Daytona 1000, Mexico City and Vacaville. The Foreword is written by Carroll Shelby. There are fourteen chapters, an epilogue and the interesting appendix. The first chapter is called Creation, Decline and Renewal and covers road course racing from 1894 through 1948. It is a short chapter of only 8 pages and I would have loved to see it expanded to about 20 pages to cover in more detail the history of road course racing in its formative years. Chapter Two is named Western Rumblings and discusses the post World War II period of 1945 through 1949, when road course racing was being re-established. Chapter Three is named Racing Takes Roots and covers the one-year period of 1949 through 1950. It is a short time but American road racing explodes in popularity and variety during this period.
Chapter Four is called Racing for Fun and Profit and profiles John von Neumann. John was instrumental in importing and selling fine European racecars and putting aspiring drivers in these fast cars. He hired Ken Miles to drive for him and was always the owner that racers aspired to drive for. Chapter 5 is titled A Professional Approach to an Amateur Sport and discusses the events and races in the year 1951. John Edgar hires a young Jack McAfee to race for him. John Fitch drives for team owner Briggs Cunningham. Other road course racers include Masten Gregory, Phil Hill, Carroll Shelby, Don Parkinson and Bill Pollack. Chapter Six is named Purpose-Built Racers take Center Stage and discusses the changes occurring in road racing and results in 1952. Chapter Seven is called The Whole Ball of Wax and discusses the impact that John Edgar had on road course racing in America. Edgar was born in 1902 and literally grew up with the automobile. He started out in boat racing and it was only due to the many serious accidents in that sport that convinced him to take up road course racing. Jack McAfee drove his cars and Ernie McAfee, no relation to Jack, worked on the cars. Edgar put money into the sport and gave his drivers the freedom they relished. Road racing was spectacular and attracted the Hollywood crowd. Chapter Eight is named The Air Force Comes to the Rescue and discusses the years 1953-1954. Road courses are set up at many Air Force bases around the country. Many drivers race in the Carrera Panamericana Mexican Road race. Chapter Nine is titled The Man with the Golden Screwdriver and discusses Tony Parravano. Passionate is the word to describe Tony Parravano. He goes to his first race and is born again to the sport of motorsports racing. A salesman, businessman and avid sports fan, he buys the best cars and the best drivers. Jack McAfee and Parravano make an exciting team and then suddenly, Tony is gone, and there are rumors that he had been murdered by the Mafia. The energy that Parravano brought to road course racing would never be equaled.
A special color photo section is interspersed between chapter nine and ten. Chapter Ten is called Mid-Decade Momentum and details the events that occurred in 1955. Road course racing is reaching a maturity and acceptance in the American psyche. Chapter Eleven is named Growing Pains and talks about the professional versus the amateur controversies. The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) took the side of the amateurs and upheld rules that favored easy access. The professional racers wanted more say into how the races should be run, with more emphasis on prize money. Drivers like Masten Gregory were racing in Europe rather than in America, where they could earn a better living. Chapter Twelve is titled A Fast Texan and the Kingfish Engineer and discusses the years 1956-57. The Texan was Carroll Shelby and the Kingfish was none other than John Edgar. Their collaboration would prove to be very successful. Chapter Thirteen is called The Wave Crests - California is Triumphant and talks about the year 1958. Lance Reventlow and the Scarab cars burst onto the scene and California drivers and owners make their presence in road racing a reality. Chapter Fourteen ends with the title The End of a Decade, the End of an Era and discusses the year 1959. While road racing continues on, the golden age of the sport from the end of World War II to the end of the Eisenhower administration had come to a close. James Dean, the Hollywood actor, had died in a crash on his way to a road course event. Parravano was gone and many of the racers had moved on to other automotive endeavors. Lynch, Edgar and Parravano have brought forth a book that gives us all a glimpse of a by-gone era in road racing that will never be matched. A fine book to compliment your racing library.
Gone Racin’ is at RNPARKS2@JUNO.COM.