Feb 19, 2008
Book review by Richard Parks, photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz
Review By Richard Parks
6 out of 8 Sparkplugs
There have been few books so reviled and maligned as The Fast Lane; The History of NHRA Drag Racing, by Tehabi Books. Well, maybe the Bible is reviled by more atheists and communists and Mein Kampf is hardly loved at all by those of the Jewish faith, but The Fast Lane is undoubtedly the pariah of drag racers. I looked at this book to see just what it was that inspires so much hatred and anger and found that it was political and not artistic among the drag racers themselves. In a nutshell, the reason is that it ignores the exploits and career of one of drag racing’s most illustrious pioneer, or so people tell me. But I’m a reviewer and my job is to grapple with the book and its construction and see what it tells me and not the book reading public, which holds all reviewers to be stuffy know-it-alls. First, let’s look at the book itself and then we will consider the heated opinions of the public at large. The Fast Lane is a well crafted book by Tehabi Books, but no author is listed. We don’t really know whom to praise or blame as it seems a group effort. Are they racers or simply publishers looking for a niche market in the auto racing world. The Fast Lane is a hard-bound book, measuring 10 ½ by 12 ½ inches with 204 high quality waxed pages and outstanding photography. Definitely it ranks as one of the best coffee table books by appearances only. It’s meant to last as it has a high quality cloth binding and the dust cover jacket is excellent with its red and black dragster theme. Save the dust cover jacket at all costs and it really enhances the look of the book. There isn’t any table of contents and so one has to go through the book to locate the chapters, which are divided into short subjects. There is a fine 6 page introduction by NHRA founder Wally Parks. There is also an adequate, but not necessarily great index and a one page acknowledgment. The ISBN# is 0-06-039-405-6 and is copyrighted by the NHRA, which indicates that this book was supposed to fill a marketing niche on the 50th anniversary of the NHRA. Perhaps that is the start of the problem. The price is $45, but you may have problems finding a copy of this book as it was recalled from general sales. The photographs are excellent. They are simply outstanding and warrant a closer look at this book. The Fast Lane contains 2 sepia photos, 63 black and white photographs, 167 color prints, 4 drawings, 5 artwork or posters and 2 charts.
There really are no chapters, but there are divisions and within the divisions there are subjects. The subjects tell us who the writers and group authors favored or thought were of importance. It’s a long group of featured men, women, car classes and subjects, but it’s necessary to go through them for the answer to our quest lies in whom wasn’t included, not who was. The Fast Lane subchapters start out with hot rodding, the NHRA Museum, Bonneville, Wally Parks, early division directors, Art Chrisman, Twin engine cars, slingshots, Bean Bandits and the Safety Safari. Good, the beginnings of the sport have their own sections and full page photo layouts. Then comes subchapters on top fuel dragsters, Don Prudhomme, Mickey Thompson, the Gasser Wars, Angelle Seeling, Terry Vance, Matt Hines, pro stock bikes, exhibitionists and the science of drag racing. A bit of a jumble, and no, there are no nude ladies in the subchapter on exhibitionists. After this comes subgroupings on Tony Schumacher, record charts, burnouts, Bill ‘Grumpy’ Jenkins, pro stockers, Lee Shepherd, Richie Stevens, Don Nicholson, Bob Glidden, Kenny Bernstein and Sox and Martin. Following this is a group consisting of pro stock truck, John Lingenfelter, suits and chutes, Linda Vaughn, John Force, Dick and Kim La Haie, the aerodynamics of drag racing, Joe Amato and funny cars. Each section has some text and a great photo layout, suggesting that The Fast Lane was meant to be a coffee table book and not an in-depth history of the sport of drag racing. Another group consists of the following subtopics; Connie, Scott and Doug Kalitta, Shirley Muldowney, racing families, Warren, Arlene and Kurt Johnson, Jr Drag racing, Jim Yates and his family and the ‘strip.’ No, the ‘strip’ is not a burlesque, but the course that racers race on. The last group of subjects discusses the shutdown, Scelzi/Johnson Racing, Big Jim Dunn, car classes, Darrell Gwynn, bracket racing, sportsmen, Super Gas, Super Comp, Super Street and Pat Austin. The book concludes with an index and acknowledgments. What do we have in The Fast Lane? We have a well crafted, reasonably inexpensive, coffee table book with outstanding photographs and just enough text to just barely move it into the ‘historical’ category. The flaws that are apparent are that it looks more like a PR Media handout of the stars racing in 2001, with a few past heroes thrown in. From this viewpoint, it is a very good book, just not a great one, but worthy of adding to your library.
Upon further research and discussion with many drag racers and fans, it isn’t what’s in the book than what was left out. What was lacking was a section devoted to one of the greatest, if not the greatest drag racers of all time, Don Garlits. Was the oversight intentional or unintentional? There are a lot of great drag racers who were not mentioned, so is this meant as a snub or as an error? Don Garlits is mentioned in the index on 8 occasions. I checked each and every reference and there was no photograph to go with the quote or the reference to him. It would be a silly brouhaha if the full title of the book was simply called The Fast Lane. But the editors/writers add to that; The History of NHRA Drag Racing. This has divided the drag racing community into the pro-Don Garlits faction versus the anti-Don Garlits faction and kept this book from reaching the public as the NHRA simply removed the book from circulation. The pro-Don Garlits faction, or the pro-NHRA lobby are not that petty to let a feud over photographs destroy an otherwise fine book. Not a great book, mind you, but a very good book, one that fills a need in the racing community. The middle ground would have been to print up an insert and add it to the unsold books and have those inserts available to those that already purchased a copy. Don Garlits has every right to question why a special subchapter with his photograph and that of his famous Wynn’s sponsored cars were not prominently displayed. The publishing group has every right to publish a book in however format they choose to do so. It is the public that will eventually say whether the one flaw in this book is fatal to the success of The Fast Lane. But to spite all the other excellent stories of the men and women of drag racing seems to this reviewer to be overkill. Perhaps it all comes down to the title of the book. The Fast Lane; The History of NHRA Drag Racing really isn’t ‘the’ history of drag racing, but ‘a’ pictorial of NHRA drag racing. I am rating the book 6 spark plugs out of a possible total score of 8 spark plugs and suggest that this book is a companion to, but not the exclusive story of NHRA drag racing.
Gone Racin’ is at RNPARKS1@JUNO.COM.
Amazon.com has about 12 copies left starting at $25. 97 and and by searching the internet I’m sure you will find more.