Fuel & Guts The Birth of Top Fuel Drag Racing by Tom Madigan

Fuel & Guts The Birth of Top Fuel Drag Racing by Tom Madigan
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Book review by Richard Parks, photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz

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Tom Madigan has taken on a most Herculean task in writing about the beginnings of top fuel drag racing and the men and women who created this exciting sport. Madigan writes with feeling and yet his style is non-confrontational. He tries to stick to the facts and his interviews with legendary racers and track promoters provide the heart of this book. Fuel & Guts, The Birth of Top Fuel Drag Racing, is hard to put down. I found myself scanning the pages, looking at the photos and captions, reading some of the interviews, then putting the book down. It wasn’t long before I picked up Fuel & Guts, The Birth of Top Fuel Drag Racing, and began scanning it again. The writing style is easy and casual, as if the reader was listening in on the conversation that Madigan is having with our racing heroes. Fuel & Guts, The Birth of Top Fuel Drag Racing, is more than a nice coffee table book. The author did his research and the book stands on its merits as a first class history of top fuel drag racing. Madigan comes as close as anyone can get to writing the definitive story of this class. He writes in a style that brings out the positives in the sport of drag racing, though the author doesn’t shy away from disputes. Madigan is a mediator, a writer with tact, and his book is easy to read. It is in his interviews with the early drag racers that the fire in their souls comes to the forefront. The author handles interviews with a deft skill and brings the men and women of drag racing alive as they relate their stories.

Fuel & Guts, The Birth of Top Fuel Drag Racing, is published by Motorbooks, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, in St Paul, Minnesota. Motorbooks is one of the largest publishers of automotive related subjects in the world. They produce and sell in volume and they are picky about what they publish and distribute. They choose quality works and publish and print only quality books. Fuel & Guts, The Birth of Top Fuel Drag Racing, is a hardbound book measuring a robust 9 ¼ inches in width by 12 ½ inches in height. The pages are high quality, heavy bond, waxed paper, which brings out the quality of the photographs in stunning detail. This book is a historical work of art, a compelling story and a coffee table book, all in one. The dust cover jacket is worth taking extra care of, since it greatly enhances the appearance of the book. The design of the dust cover jacket is exceptional and very professionally done. I’ve explained before how important the protective sleeve or jacket is to a book. Keep it in good repair and don’t lose it, because a well-done dust cover invites the reader to pick up a book and read it. Any collector of fine books will tell you how much a book is devalued when it has lost its jacket. The author included a two-page index and I spent some time in testing the accuracy and found that Madigan did a good job of indexing the text and captions. He didn’t index the posters, ads or supplements. An index is time consuming but it is another sign of a well-researched book.

There are 66 color photographs with another 172 black and white photographs in the book. There is an additional 8 posters, magazine covers, ads and displays to highlight events in the text. The quality of the photographs are superb and remember, they used the finest quality paper throughout. While this isn’t a particularly large number of visual enhancements, the photographs and visual displays are placed throughout the book to add strength and emphasis to the textual writing. The author chooses to use quality photographs rather than an abundance of photographic displays in order to tell the story and he does an admirable job. The black and white photographs are every bit as beautiful as the color ones and much more nostalgic for the reader. Fuel & Guts, The Birth of Top Fuel Drag Racing, is a top of the line book in its layout as well as its construction. The pages are woven into a cloth binding along the spine of the book, giving a higher quality and endurance to the book. Cheaper books have the pages glued to the spine and the glue may become brittle and allow the pages to work loose and fall out. This book, like the entire Motorbooks label, will stand the test of time. For all of this quality, size and detail to research, the price of the book is a very reasonable $50 ($62 Canadian), when one considers that paperback books are selling in the $29 to $35 price range. All major bookstores carry the Motorbooks line, or they can order the book for you. Give the bookstore the name of the book and author, or use the ISBN number 13:978-0-7603-2697-8.

Now to the books content. There are 18 chapters, a foreword by Dave McClelland, a section on acknowledgments and the index. Listening to or reading anything that McClelland says is worth half the book’s cost right there. His golden voice sets the standards for announcers in any sporting event and drag racing is thankful that he chose to honor us with his wit and charm. Next, look at the page on sources, references and acknowledgments. This will quickly tell the reader if the author knows his topics or if it’s the chili beans talking from the food served at the concession stands. Madigan not only lists the men and women he interviewed, but he has known them since he started writing about motorsports racing nearly five decades ago. This doesn’t mean that he is perfect. For example, he mentions Bob Petersen hitching a ride to the dry lakes in the 1940’s with a “teenaged Wally Parks.” By this time my father was in his 30’s and a central figure in hot rodding, dry lakes and landspeed racing. On almost every point other than this, Madigan gets the story to the reader on an accurate and interesting level. He knows who Bob Lindsay, Lee Blaisdell and Marvin Lee were and their importance to the rise of drag racing. The early days of drag racing are thorough and precise. The story on the first organized drag race at Goleta even brought out events that I had never heard. Madigan tells the story of C. J. and Peggy Hart and their efforts to get street racers off the roads and onto a safe and sanctioned drag strip. That led to the first ‘professionally’ organized drag strip in the nation that we know of.

The following chapters detail the men and women of top fuel drag racing and some of the other classes in the sport. The author mentions Joaquin Arnett and the Bean Bandits, the Pedregon family, Bob Muravez and his alter ego, Floyd J. Lippincotte Jr, Roland Leong, Don Prudhomme, Eric Rickman, Tom McEwen, Paul Pfaff, Ed Pink, Don Garlits, Ed Iskenderian and many more. To us they are more than just names of famous people. They are family and close friends and Madigan brings out that feeling. Some of the top fuel racers, mechanics, owners and those associated with top fuel drag racing went on to great success and fortune. Some, like Don Prudhomme are still at the top of the field, winning races and championships as owners after their racing days came to an end. Others were forgotten, except by their fans that saw them race and never forgot the experience. Many are still alive and come to the reunions, races and events. The value of Madigan’s Fuel & Guts, The Birth of Top Fuel Drag Racing, is in the history and background that it can give to the newcomer to drag racing and the feeling of nostalgia for those who grew up with top fuel drag racing. It won’t tell you everything that happened at the birth of a new sport, but it is one of the best books on the subject and one that should be in every true drag racing fan’s library.

Pick one up today at your local bookstore!

Gone Racin’ is at [email protected].