The Shelby American Story by Art Evans

The Shelby American Story by Art Evans
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6-16-11
Book Review by Richard Parks,
Photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz

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Art Evans has nearly twenty books to his credit and the latest is The Shelby American Story, with photography by Dave Friedman.  The subject matter concerns Carroll Shelby and this is Art’s second book on this American auto racer and car designer and builder.  The book is a hard cover edition with a cloth binding down the spine, meant for a long lasting and strong book.  The book measures 11 inches in length, 9 inches in height and is a half inch in thickness, containing 128 pages.  The book itself is blue with gold lettering, but it also comes with a book jacket or dust cover sleeve.  That’s the glossy paper covering that you find on hard cover editions, which most people abuse, toss away or lose.  Why people do that to the book jacket is beyond me, since collectors will always pay a premium for books that still have the cover in good condition.  There are 219 black and white photographs, six magazine ads, three charts and six magazine or book covers.  The book lacks color photography and there is no index.  I’m not too concerned about a lack of color photographs as there is a certain nostalgic aura to black and white photographs.  But I always cringe where an author leaves out an index.  However, that is not a huge loss as there is a half-page table of contents and 52 chapters, all short and based on an interview or from Art’s memory.  Evans also wrote a half page introduction to the book. The paper and the photographs themselves are above average.  The two best photographs are on the front and back of the book jacket, another reason to keep the jacket with the book.  The ISBN# is 0-9797219-3-8 and Evans self-published using a USA firm, The Transportation Book Service, a division of Iconografix.  The price is $39.95 and you can order the book from the author at [email protected].

I rather like the book jacket, but then Carroll Shelby always is photogenic.  I wish there was an index, but the photographers are some of the best.  The photos are fine.  They tell the story and the captions are fairly good and clear.  The photographers are: Dave Friedman, Bernard Cahier, Art Evans, Herb Jones, Allen Kuhn, Dean Moon, and Bob Tronolone.  The Petersen Automotive Museum, Sharon Shelby and the Daimler Benz Archive collections also contributed photographs.  But the reason that The Shelby American Story is worth buying and adding to your library is due to two reasons; Art Evans and Carroll Shelby.  Art is the expert on road course racing, having been a driver when road racing became a craze in America during the 1950’s and ‘60’s.  One of my few regrets is that I didn’t develop a love for the sport until long after its golden age was over.  Much of the racing occurred close by and the famous and infamous made this sport something very special.  The other reason is Carroll Shelby himself.  The Shelby American Story doesn’t tell the whole Shelby story; no book can.  Shelby needs a slew of books to do that and hopefully that will happen as more people learn about this exceptional man.  Shelby was also a good friend of my father and a confidant.  He was a high official in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) when my father was the president of the organization.  There was and will never be a funnier sharing of outrageous stories when Shelby, my father, Ak Miller and Alex Xydias got together.  I could listen to their stories forever and never be bored.

Art Evans is a fascinating man in his own right.  He was a racer.  He co-published the Sports Car JournalHe was a regional director for the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA).  He was the owner of Evans Industries and imported the Devin cars and parts to this country.  He went to the US Military Academy and other prestigious schools.  He is degreed and credentialed and taught in the school system.  He was an associate professor and chair of the Photography Department.  He worked in Hollywood.  He produces the Fabulous Fifties Newsletter that keeps the old-time road course racers together.  He writes for magazines and authors his own books.  More than anything else he knows all the people and their history in automotive sports.  Frankly, only Art Evans can write the series of books that he writes.  He also has a very simple, but effective way to produce a large amount of high quality books on racing.  It is a technique that he has mastered and that I have been trying to copy for years.  There are a few others who match Art in quality and output; Buzz Rose, Don Montgomery, Dick Wallen, etal.  Another asset is the loyalty that men and women in racing have for Evans.  Art does have a funny bone, but he masks it with the gruff, no-nonsense attitude of a newspaper editor.  He is serious about his work and the history and heritage that he is leaving behind.  Art doesn’t have to write books or articles.  In fact he is driven to do this.  He is a major source of information in road course racing and a person that is truly indispensible. 

Art’s contacts and friends make his projects doable.  Just look at some of the people who have contributed their thoughts and memories, or whom Art knew well enough to give a short chapter to.  They are; Jim Hall, Ed Hugus, Bill Krause, Ken Miles, Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, Bob Bondurant, Peter Brock, Parnelli Jones, Augie Pabst, Henry Ford II, Walt Hansgen, Mario Andretti, Lew Spencer, Phil Remington, Scooter Patrick, Davey Jordan and others.  Most of us would swoon just to meet a few of these men, but Evans knows them personally and counts them as his friends.  When you have these kinds of sources and contacts, the books that Evans produces are of the highest quality and authenticity.  Besides the short chapters on people just mentioned, there are chapters on the following events; Driving school, birth of the Cobra, ’62 Bahamas, Daytona Coupe, LeMans, Ford Mustang, Ford GT, Sebring, drag racing, Bonneville Salt Flats, Daytona Beach, Can-Am, Indy 500, Toyota, etc.  One thing that Evans does is fill his book up with facts and history.  The Shelby American Story is too short to give Shelby’s entire history, but it gives you the basics and a fair amount of details.  Lost in this welter of facts and creativity is the photographer; Dave Friedman.  I’ve reviewed some of his work as well and my father was a collector of his work.  Friedman is truly a great photographer and has authored over 30 books.  He worked as a still photographer in Hollywood on some of the best known movies and is a member of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences, the only still photographer to belong to that group.

I try to give the reader of a review the basic facts about the book, but avoid trying to tell the whole story.  If you got that info from me why would you go out and buy the book.  But in some cases it helps to know something about the individual chapters.  The chapter on drag racing tells us that Ford Motor Company spotted a chance to show off the Shelby Cobra and it did very well in its class.  The chapter, however, fails to tell about Shelby’s involvement with Wally Parks and the NHRA Board.  Shelby was an early vice-president of the NHRA.  The chapter on Bonneville gave us some new facts, but it too was short.  However, Art’s usage of photographs interspersed with text and captions means that this is a fast read.  Another thing that I like about Evans is that he does a biography in as few words as any author that I have seen, but it is thorough enough that you feel you know the person being interviewed.  One of the best chapters is on Parnelli Jones and his interactions with Shelby.  I had no trouble going through the book, then coming back to a favorite chapter to spend more time on the details.  Some chapters are merely photographs and captions, but if they are well done, as Evans has a talent for, then that is sufficient.  There is no bibliography in the book or footnotes and sources, so the reader is left to his own to find additional books to read on the subject.  Evans has a pleasant style of writing, most likely due to his thorough knowledge of the road racing culture.  I really like The Shelby American Story and rate it a seven out of a possible eight spark plugs.

You can also find this book at most book stores or By just searching the Internet.

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