Book Review by Franklin Ratliff
Athol Graham's City of Salt Lake, the new book by Harvey Shapiro, is not only an excellent biography of Athol Graham but also the story of the many people who came to be either associated with the car or affected by it. Technical insight and perspective on the project is provided in chapters by land speed racers Tom Burkland and Waldo Stakes. Although beaten to 300 mph by Mickey Thompson in Challenger 1, Graham was only the second American to run over 300 mph. This was at a time when the only other drivers to go over 300 mph had been Sir Malcolm Campbell, George Eyston, and John Cobb in the enormously expensive behemoths "Blue Bird," "Thunderbolt," and "Railton." It is difficult today to appreciate the impact of a completely unknown hot rodder coming out of nowhere on a shoestring budget and running the same speeds. In November of 1959, Graham, after a trial run of 277.56 mph, clocked runs of 305.84 mph and 308.608 mph for a two-way average of 307.254 mph. After fixing problems and making modifications, Graham came back in December of 1959 and clocked runs of 303.183 mph and 344.761 mph. The only drivers alive at the time who had gone faster were Mickey Thompson and George Eyston.
Shapiro has written two previous books dealing with the land speed record, Faster Than Sound (a history of the land speed record up through The Blue Flame) and Man Against The Salt (a biography of Art Arfons). This new book is based on firsthand accounts from interviews with Zeldine Graham (Athol's wife), Robert Graham (Athol's older brother), and other members of the Graham family. It is 197 pages divided into ten sections for a total of twenty-eight chapters illustrated with many B&W photos of the car, Athol, and Zeldine. The section titles are The Nature of Man, America enters 'The War,' Assault at Bonneville, A Life Ended Too Soon, Suddenly a Widow, Who are the Grahams?, She kept the Secret, Still in the Game, The Graham Kids, and Why did Graham's car fail? Each of these sections is devoted to specific aspects of the Graham story as well as to the land speed racing of that period. America enters 'The War' and Assault at Bonneville is an account of the 1959-1960 period when five cars challenged the World Land Speed Record.
One of the most touching accounts in Shapiro's book, detailed in the three chapters of Section VII, She kept the Secret, is the story of Otto Anzjon, an 18-year old mechanic who had helped Graham build the car then rebuilt it after the crash. Anzjon later died of leukemia but not before getting to rebuild the car and drive it at Bonneville. The three chapters in this section are "Hang In There Lady", "From Norway-To-Utah", and "From The Ashes." These chapters deal with Otto's family and the rebuilding of the car. The story of Otto Anzjon is concluded in Section VIII, Still InThe Game in the chapter "Atta Boy, Otto." To order a copy, send a check or money order for $20 to Harvey Shapiro, P.O. Box 1243, Centerville, MA 02632.