Book review by Richard Parks, photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz
Dick Wallen produces a line of racing books that have no equal. His enthusiasm for motorsports racing, along with his editing and photographic skills, allows him to tell a passionate story about car racing. Roaring Roadsters: The Road to Indy is another one of his fine books. This is a hardbound book measuring 11 inches in width and 8 ½ inches in height, which is a little unwieldy for a normal bookshelf and contains 267 pages. The quality of the book, however, makes it a coffee-table masterpiece and Wallen crafted Roaring Roadsters: The Road to Indy so that it would take center stage. The binding is stitched and not glued for extra handling. The paper is quality bond with a glossy, waxed surface, which makes the photographs stand out. The book comes with a hard cardboard sleeve and not a regular dust jacket cover. On both the sleeve and the book cover is an identical painting by renowned racing artist Joe Henning. There are seven drawings or paintings in the book and they are spectacular. Some drawings are by Henning and some by Bob McCoy, who is a first class racing artist. There is one color photograph, 28 reproductions of programs from various racetracks, one map, four miscellaneous pictorials and two pages of photo credits. The photo credits index the names of the race car drivers to the page where they are shown, but it does not give a comprehensive index of the racers listed in the story and text. The crowning achievements, besides the artwork by Henning and McCoy, are the 809 black and white photographs from many racers, family and fans.
Wallen attends many reunions, races and vintage racing events and he is familiar with the racing scene. It is easier to find the few old time racers who have not heard of Dick Wallen than the hundreds who do know him. Wallen also found the results of past races and records them on 8 pages of charts. Very surprisingly, with all this research, he did not include an index of the people and places listed in the book. Roaring Roadsters: The Road to Indy is a pictorial and Wallen did not intend to make this into a college text with notes, bibliography and index. The book stands on its own merits and the captions are quite good. The text is substantial and tells the story adequately. The editors were Michael Jordan and Dan Fleisher and the printer is Ben Franklin Press. The first printing was in 2005 and Roaring Roadsters: The Road to Indy can be purchased directly from Wallen by calling 623-566-5578. Wallen also has a website where you can see parts of the book and some of his other fine works at www.racingclassics.com. The Foreword is written by A.J. Watson and is two pages in length. Wallen has assembled priceless photos from forty-seven people who were there in the beginning of roadster racing. Some of these pioneers include; Jack Balch, Don Zabel, Rosie Roussel, Kenny Parks, Don Freeland, Howard and Jack Gardner, Rudy Ramos, Wilda Kindoll, Walt James, Chuck Hulse, Lloyd Stehling, Chuck Leighton and many more. Wallen interviewed almost 90 people from the heyday of roadster racing in the post World War II era. Some of these included Rodger Ward, Clem Tebow, Len Sutton, Allen Heath, Troy Ruttman, Art Bagnall, Dick McClung, Don Blair, Chuck Daigh, Parnelli Jones and many more.
Wallen wrote the Evolution of the Roadster, which is an introduction and quite thorough. Auto historian Bob Schilling wrote the next eleven chapters. I’ve known Schilling for ten years and his research and writing are exemplary. Another person who needs to be recognized is Walt James. Walt has been at the forefront of the CRA (California Roadster Association, California Racing Association) from the very beginning. He organizes the CRA Reunion every January at Knotts Berry Farm, in Buena Park, California. Walt and his wife, Dottie, keep the racers, their families and fans connected by the reunion and a close-knit communication system. Wallen would have finished this book without James and the CRA reunion, but it would have been much more difficult. In fact, those mentioned in the book also attend the reunion and the stories that they tell are reflected in Roaring Roadsters: The Road to Indy. Besides Walt James, there are two more people that continue the rich Southern California motorsport racing history alive. Hila Sweet promotes the California Racers Reunion and Don Weaver puts on the Legends of Ascot Reunion. Those mentioned in Wallen’s books are often found at all three reunions. Roaring Roadsters: The Road to Indy goes back into the 1920’s to show how cars evolved into the roadster that blossomed just after WWII. Roadsters were lighter than the stock cars of the day. They vied with Midget racing for fans and prestige. The roadsters raced on local tracks with Carrell Speedway being one of their favorite venues. The best roadster racers found rides at the Indy 500 and men such as Troy Ruttman, Rodger Ward and Parnelli Jones won at the brickyard.
Track roadster racing exploded onto the scene and from 1946 until 1956 enjoyed a great deal of success. That decade defined some of the best auto racing this country has ever witnessed. A short decade and then the country and racing moved on into other fields. NASCAR and NHRA became very successful with stock car and drag racing. Open wheel racing changed sanctioning bodies and would divide into two racing leagues. Road course racing would see its golden age parallel that of track roadster racing. It was a short period of time, but it left an indelible mark on those that drove track roadsters and those that were the fans of this exciting form of racing. Roaring Roadsters: The Road to Indy captures the excitement and danger of that bygone era. It is a coffee table style book that is simply too beautiful to put away into a bookshelf. I found myself thumbing through the pages and remembering some of the drivers, owners and others who I know. The photographs are fantastic and look even better today than when they were taken.
Gone Racin’ is at RNPARKS2@JUNO.COM.