Book Review by Richard Parks, Photographic Consultant Roger Rohrdanz
Mel Anthony has written a fine little book called Smoke, Sand and Rubber. It is 7 x 10 inches in size and about an inch thick in a paperback format. There are 288 pages with 40 chapters, each about seven pages long, containing 250 black and white photos. Smoke, Sand and Rubber also has one color photo, three drawings and 21 posters, graphs and charts. The cover has an appealing black and white drawing of midgets racing on a track, but no dust cover. Anthony numbers and signs the books and there are 1000 copies in the first printing. The book was published in 2006 by Sylvester Publishing in Shoreline, Washington. The ISBN number is 0-9787721-0-5, but the best way to obtain a copy is by contacting Anthony at MethanolMel@msn.com. The price of the book is $29.95, but contact the author to see how much for the shipping and handling costs. There is a table of contents, introduction and dedication, all by Mel Anthony. There is a short Foreword by racer Pike Green. The text is double-spaced and the letter size is larger to make it read easier. Some authors cram the text in the smallest size possible to save on costs by having fewer pages, but Anthony doesn’t make that mistake. Historical and autobiographical books like Smoke, Sand and Rubber generally appeal to an older audience and small type is hard on our eyes. This book is easy to read and very interesting. The average reader will have finished several chapters in a very short time span. There is a four-page Index, that is superior to most books that I have reviewed. Anthony has put a great deal of work into creating an index where so many other authors simply avoid doing it altogether.
The photographs are exceptionally clear and well presented for their age. The captions beneath the photographs are clear and explain the people, cars and places independently of the story itself. The research is exceptional and informative. The book tells the story of midget and sprint car racing in the Pacific Northwest. Yet auto racing isn’t done in a vacuum and the author will bring in additional racing stories along the West Coast and the Indy 500. Mel Anthony was born in 1923, just north of Seattle, in what is now Shoreline, Washington. He grew up during the height of the Great Depression. His father raised chickens and had a welding shop that made parts for Sears & Roebuck. His mother provided board and room for homeless children from the Washington State Children’s Home. Anthony raced Soap Box Derby racers in the 1930’s, but the sound of sprint cars on the 5/8th mile track at the Seattle Speed Bowl was his great love. He followed the local and out of town race car drivers as they made a name for themselves. Men like Rajo Jack, Mel Keneally, Swede Lindskog, Allen Heath, Wally Schock and many other great racers of the day. As a teenager in the ’30’s, Anthony earned money picking fruit and purchased several older cars which he worked on and drove. As a sixteen-year-old, Anthony took part in a 100-lap jalopy race in 1939 at the Speed Bowl. He raced his cars on the streets, the back roads of the countryside and on the farm against his friends. Anthony bought a Duesenberg, then resold it to purchase a midget race car. He was seriously injured in an accident on the race track, spending weeks in a body cast. His stories and experiences are told in a humorous, personable style that gives the reader the feeling that they are talking to him in person. Mel recovered from his injuries, graduated from high school and went to work in the shipyards. The action was in the service and there was no racing during the war, so he joined the Navy. Anthony was a diver and welder and saw action throughout the Pacific campaign. His experiences of the war years are riveting and full of danger. After the war ended, Mel was discharged and with his bonus money he purchased a V-8 60 midget and went racing.
The post-WWII years were the heyday of auto racing as men were being discharged from the service and they eagerly went back to racing. Men and women who had faced death in wartime and want during the Depression were not easily dissuaded from doing what they wanted, nor did they fear taking risks. He rejoined the Washington Midget Racing Association (WMRA). Cars, engines, tires and other spare parts were at a premium. Anthony began having success with his Midget and bought a sprint car. He met his wife, Barbara, at the track and they have been married for over sixty years. She is shown in many of the photographs as the beauty queen presenting the trophy and the kiss to the winning drivers. They formed an inseparable pair and traveled constantly from race track to race track. Mel was successful in the B mains, enough to race professionally for a decade. Anthony sold his race cars and drove for Homer Norman and Warren King. His fascinating stories pile one upon another, far too many to tell in a review, but for the oval racing fan, this book is full of anecdotal facts and events. Special chapters are given to Tex Roberts, Bud Green, Allen Heath, Paul Pold, Chick Barbo, Don Olds, Shorty Templeman, Louie Sherman, Stan and Johnny Muir, Bob Gregg, Swede Lindskog, Tony West, Cliff Spalding, Sid Archer, Mark Sullivan, and Kenny Gardiner. Anthony raced from 1946 through 1956, then retired to spend more time with his family. Barbara and Mel have two children, Dennis and Vickie and the final chapter is devoted to them. Anthony’s passion for racing and his family is very evident in this book and the last chapter is too short to show all the things that families sacrifice in order that men might go racing. Dennis Anthony bought a Don Edmunds sprint car kit and father and son went racing, for another ten years, then retired the car. Mel and Dennis Anthony each raced during eras that brought out the best in our racing heritage. They never garnered the fame of men like Shorty Templeman, Allen Heath, Len Sutton and Swede Lindskog who put the Northwest racing circuits on the map. But they certainly lived and relished this time and their stories make this a book worth adding to your library.
From The Book