Book review by Richard Parks, photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz
Hot Rod Pioneers, the Creators of the Fastest Sport on Wheels, by Ed Almquist is a hardbound book with 378 pages, that tells the story of hot rodding by developing short biographical sketches of famous racing personalities. Approximately 198 men and women are portrayed in a short one or two page segment. Although it has an encyclopedic format to the book, the writing resembles that found in magazine articles. The publisher is SAE International (Society of Automotive Engineers), located in Warrendale, Pennsylvania, and the issue date is 2000. The ISBN# is 0-7680-0232-X. The SAE is a well-known and respected society that has high standards for accuracy and research. For more information or to order this book, call the SAE at 724-776-4970. You can also buy this book at Autobooks/Aerobooks at 818-845-0707. Hot Rod Pioneers, the Creators of the Fastest Sport is 9 ¼ inches in height and 10 ¼ inches in width. A strange shape for one’s bookcase but the quality of the work lends itself to being a coffee table book. The book has a special extra quality binding rather than the typical glued binding. The hard cover is black and the dust cover jacket is a striking roadster with a blue paint job and yellow flames. As with all dust cover jackets, take extra care because they add value and appeal to the book. Now comes the massive amount of data; 943 black and white photographs, 39 drawings and 121 color photos. In addition there are 12 ads, one map, 21 diagrams, 11 programs and 7 miscellaneous objects too difficult to categorize. The paper is non-glossy and rather thin and this does affect the quality of the black and white photos. The color photos are reproduced on glossy, waxed paper and are extremely well done. It is the sheer massive volume in Hot Rod Pioneers, the Creators of the Fastest Sport that will make this encyclopedic book a mainstay of your library.
The Foreword was written by Don Garlits and his enthusiasm for hot rodding and drag racing shows clearly in his writing. The Introduction was written by the author, who discloses that he spent two years writing Hot Rod Pioneers, the Creators of the Fastest Sport and traveled 28,000 miles in his effort to interview as many people as possible. This book is thorough and many people are chronicled in this work that have been largely forgotten as hot rodding and drag racing have matured over the decades. Almquist gives the reader little vignettes and lagniappes, or extra topics embedded into the title subjects. He tells of his encounter with Henry Ford and other interesting events. There are seven chapters that cover 367 pages of the book, though the chapters simply merge into each other. The construction of the book is based on one, two and three page biographical sketches of important men and women who played a major role in the hot rodding movement. These men and women would go into all forms of motorsports racing and work in the automotive speed equipment field. The chapter headings are designated by decades, which don’t make as much sense when you are dealing with individual biographies. Wally Parks, for example, is active in motorsports from the 1930’s right up through the present day (2007). Ed Iskenderian began turning out great cams since the 1940’s and is still actively involved. The author provides an eleven-page index and it is very good, but I checked a few names and they were missing from the index on the pages they were listed. There wasn’t a bibliography; but then again, Almquist was conducting private interviews and not researching his material in a public library.
This is living research, or field research as the experts call it, and Almquist did an excellent job. The book tends to be concentrated toward hot rodders who went into land speed time trial and drag racing. It overlooks many hot rodders who were oval track racers and road course racers. After World War II, as servicemen returned to their jobs and families, there was an explosion of enthusiasm for the car culture and racing in particular. New racing leagues formed and fell apart at a dizzying rate and men and women experimented with all types of motorsports. Many racers would race at the dry lakes then go drag racing at the nearest dragstrips that were opening up. Just as many young people would go racing in oval track and road course racing. There is scant mention of men like Walt James, Danny Oakes and Rodger Ward in the book, yet each of them were hot rodders too. But Dick Wallen writes excellent books about oval track racing and it would be rather burdensome to include everything. Almquist is on to something here and with a bit of encouragement, maybe we can prod the author into doing another sequel to this book. There are more men and women who need their stories told and their day in the sun. Some of the hot rodders mentioned in Hot Rod Pioneers, the Creators of the Fastest Sport are: Don Garlits, Dave Marquez, Jack Mendenhall, Barney Navarro, Craig Breedlove, Wally Parks, Robert ‘Pete’ Petersen, Alex Xydias, Dick Martin, Eddie Meyer, TV Tommy Ivo and Don Francisco. Clay Smith is portrayed but not his mentor, Pierre Bertrand, who was Ed Winfield’s competitor for quality cams. Almquist found as many jewels as he left out. A special recognition must be awarded to the author for noticing Dave Marquez and Jack Mendenhall who are often overlooked but who inspired many young hot rodders. Hot Rod Pioneers, the Creators of the Fastest Sport fulfills a great need for a fact filled book that includes a large selection of famous hot rodders.
Gone Racin’ is at RNPARKS2@JUNO.COM.