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Book Review: From Horseback to Horsepower

Book Review: From Horseback to Horsepower


     I review all sorts of books, pamphlets, movies, magazines and stories that are sent in to the Gone Racin’ byline.  Roger Rohrdanz is my photographic editor and consultant on this series and it has been a most rewarding journey into hot rodding, drag, straight-line, land speed, oval track and other forms of motorsports.  Perhaps the books that I look forward to the most have to do with biographies, for there aren’t enough of them being done.  Awhile back I encouraged Chic Cannon to write his autobiography and he took me up on it and then he found a publisher and had his life story recorded in print and photos.  I’m amazed at how well he accomplished his task; now for the review itself.
     The first part of the review has to do with the construction of the book.  From Horseback to Horsepower; the autobiography of Chic Cannon NHRA is a paperback book, ISBN (number) 9-781517-558758 and can be ordered through   The price is $14.95.  There is no publisher listed, but the paperback was printed in San Bernardino, California.  From Horseback to Horsepower; the autobiography of Chic Cannon NHRA is a barebones story; there is no index, table of contents or introduction and the acknowledgment is just a quarter page.  Four editions are mentioned, but I believe this applies to editorial corrections and not to four separate printings.  The book has been pared down from the original manuscript which I helped Cannon compile.  There are short captions for each photograph, except for the only color photograph on the cover of the book.  There are 72 black and white photographs of average to fair quality, but 3 of the photographs are barely legible.  The quality of the paper is good.  The size is 5 ½ x 8 ½ x 3/8 inches; a relatively small book.  The paperback has a glued binding as do most paperback books.  The cover is quite striking.  There are 72 pages of text, double spaced.
     It seems like I am quibbling about the book, but I am not.  I always give readers a glimpse of the construction of the book and then I approach the ideas, which should always be the reason you buy a book or perhaps, to simply buy coffee table books for show.  Chic Cannon is a family friend and associate of my father, Wally Parks, and while the book lacks an index and other usual features, it is the story that really matters here and why I overlook all the construction problems and highly recommend this book.  Cannon, like almost all his contemporaries except for Bud Evans, spoke carefully and had that conspicuous Hot Rodder’s quiet restraint.  His writing and speaking style are straight-forward and honest.  He tells the story of his life and those around him in measured tones.  He can be humorous without being wordy and as the last of the living members of the famed original Safety Safari sent out by my father, his words and memories are pure gold to drag racers.
     From Horseback to Horsepower; the autobiography of Chic Cannon NHRA is a fast read, as it is only 72 pages and the captions for the 72 photographs are short and to the point.  I’ll tell you this right now; he’s going to get a lot of requests to go into a much greater detail as this book comes out.  His stories are refreshing and much of it is new and never before told in magazine and newspaper articles.  I don’t try to fawn over authors; it isn’t my job to get you to buy the book.  My function is to explain the book in ways that will motivate you to make a decision; buy it for your library or save your money for parts for your race car or hot rod.  Since there isn’t a great amount of information on the original founding of the sport of drag racing except mostly public relations style releases in magazines and the media, this is a book worth adding to your library.
     I knew Chic and Julie Cannon, the Safety Safari men and others mentioned in the book and so for me it wasn’t a new adventure, but a pleasant amble down memory lane.  The leader of the Safari was Bud Coons, the stocky, muscular, black haired, tough ex-cop whom the young men of the 1940’s and ‘50’s respected and the young ladies had a crush on.  Coons was taciturn, strong, charismatic, forceful and in command.  Nothing got by him and nothing ever would.  He was the right-hand man with a good right hand who had Wally Parks’ back, along with Steve Gibbs and Barbara Livingston Parks.  Wherever Coons went the Safari followed and police chiefs and mayors listened to him.  His value to the team and to the survival of the NHRA has never been fully appreciated. 
     Eric “Rick” Rickman was the master photographer and to some extent the Father of all Hot Rod and motorsports photography.  You could say that Rickman and Lee Blaisdell set the model for all photographers from the 1940’s on and it would be hard to debate the point.  Rickman was loved by all, because he labored on behalf of small racing car and boat leagues around the nation.  If your group needed publicity then Rickman was your guy; a quiet, kindly man whom I admired greatly. 
     Bud Evans was the clown prince of the team, but make no mistake; he knew how to rouse a crowd from the announcing stand.  I could never get the same story out of Evans, no matter how much I tried, but each story, always changing from the original, was a laugh-riot.  Evans should have had a comedy show; he was that good.  His brother starred in Hollywood films portraying the tough sergeant always keeping his rag-tag soldiers alive in impossible situations.  Evans himself served in the Korean War, which politicians spun as a “police action.”  Evans hated the lack of respect the country showed for Korean veterans and yet his sense of humor overtook his feelings of that brutal war.
     Coons, Rickman and Evans have passed away, much to the sorrow of those who knew how important they were to the survival of early drag racing.  Chic Cannon is the only one left and his mind and memories are as sharp as ever.  Cannon was the Tech guy; the man who set everything up and made sure it ran well.  He inspected the cars and trained young people in what it took to set up their own regional drag races.  Later in life he sold his home and purchased a motorhome and with his life-time pass to all NHRA drag races, he and Julie set out to revisit all the drag strips and national meets and to see how the present has altered his memories of the past.  My impression is that Cannon soon learned on his epic adventure that, “You can’t go home again.”  What’s in the past is meant for our memories and as a tool to guide us in our present day decision making. 
     From Horseback to Horsepower; the autobiography of Chic Cannon NHRA is a fine biography, on the life of a very interesting and very important man in the creation of a new, American motorsport.  It’s short, easily read, fascinating and full of twists and turns, which is what life is all about.  Cannon lived life to the fullest and in doing so he witnessed some of the most positive highlights of American history.  I know he left a lot out of this biography, especially if it did not dwell on motorsports.  I know because I read the original biography.  But he hit all the highlights and this is one of those books that will make your understanding of drag racing more complete.

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