American Sportscar racing in the 1950s

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By Michael Lynch, William Edgar, Ron Parravano

Published by Haynes, £29.99. ISBN 0 7603 0367 3

Author Lynch claims this to be “the first in-depth survey of the first decade of American road-racing,” and it’s hard think of another such comprehensive source of facts about this period. It was significant because, while road-racing had been arguably even more important to car development in Europe than racing cars, the same had not been true in the USA. Racing had focussed on ovals, specialised track cars or modified saloons rather than sportscars. What I didn’t know was that it was the railways which began this trend, campaigning against road provision on the grounds that cars were elitist. Promoters liked tracks because of the gate-money and in the ’20s, many states banned road-racing altogether.

Also news to me was a club called ARCA, which alone flew the flag of European-style amateur road-racing in the ’30s. Things changed after the war, when new optimism brought the Sports Car Club of America, and when Watkins Glen came into being, road-racing had found new and fertile ground.

From here the book gets down to the wonderful mixed grids of the early post-war years, where old Alfas, modified MGs, and Chevrolet and Ford roadsters fronted up to new Ferrari sportscars. Familiar names begin to appear – there’s a lovely shot of a kid called Phil Hill behaving outrageously in his TC MG, plus those who bridged the Atlantic, particularly Luigi Chinetti and Briggs Cunningham., the one famed for bringing Europe’s best to America, and the other for precisely the opposite.

Picture quality is high, supported by informative captions, and there is a remarkably healthy section of colour shots too. There is even personal intrigue, in the tale of Tony Parravano, the entrepreneur who at one point ran both Masten Gregory and Carroll Shelby in Maseratis and Ferraris, but who came to a mysterious end while being pursued by the law. That story is told by his son, while the book’s third author, William Edgar, was involved in the period as a racer and entrant, so the authority is first-hand, as Carroll Shelby’s foreword confirms.

The story is well told, with pride in US achievement plus respect for the European tradition.

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