Book reviews, May 2017, May 2017

Crashed and Byrned – 2017 updated edition

Tommy Byrne & Mark Hughes

Try and buy a second-hand copy of this book – which was originally published in 2008 – on eBay or Amazon and it will cost you about £150. So it is fair to say that it has become something of a cult classic among racing aficionados. This new edition will set you back a more palatable €23 and comes with new photographs and updated chapters bringing the reader up to date from where the original book finished. 

The main story remains the same, however: Tommy Byrne a combustible Irish racing driver from the wrong side of the tracks, powered his way through the ranks of Formula Ford and Formula 3 in the late 1970s and early ‘80s and briefly competed in Formula 1 in an uncompetitive Theodore. His pace earned him a McLaren test that has since gone down in folklore as one of the great what-could-have-beens of racing history. His times were blistering but after an ill-fated meeting with Ron Dennis his dreams of landing a contract never materialised. 

Byrne’s career subsequently spiralled out of control in a haze of booze and wild partying and into ignominy – hence the sub-title: The Greatest Racing Driver You Never Saw.

The story, written by Byrne and Mark Hughes, Motor Sport’s Grand Prix editor, has recently been made into an award-winning documentary film in the mould of
Senna (a driver whom some felt Byrne might have matched). 

This book fills in many of the more scandalous details that the film shies away from as well painting a more nuanced portrait of Byrne himself.

It’s a rip-roaring read – and possibly a sound investment, too. JD

Published by Irish Vintage Scene

ISBN: 978-1-5272-0612-0, 23.00


Freddie Spencer

Freddie Spencer is one of the greatest motorcycle racers of all time: in 1983, aged 21, he became the youngest-ever world motorcycling champion and two years later became the first man to win both the 250cc and 500cc championships in the same year. He achieved worldwide fame and fortune but as this book makes clear, life has not been an easy ride. 

Born in Louisiana, Spencer’s earliest childhood memory is of falling into a burning pile of leaves as a toddler and scorching his hand badly (when he started racing he would wear a sock over it to ease the pain). Later, on a biking road trip with his dad, his bike caught fire, singeing his hair and face. He battled his way to the top of the motorcycling world and the book is brilliant on his clashes with Kenny Roberts and Barry Sheene in the 1980s. But it is clear that Spencer feels something was missing: at one point, early on in the book, he finds himself staring at the two trophies he has won for a 250cc race and 500cc race at the Nations Grand Prix, Mugello, en route to winning both championships. “Is this all there is?,” he thinks to himself. 

Suffused with spirituality, Feel is much more than a list of race results and clichéd sportsman anecdotes, it is a moving and elegantly written account of how Spencer came to make sense of his extraordinary life. JD

Published by Penguin Random House

ISBN:  978-0-753545-61-4, £20.00

The World’s Fastest E-type Jaguar

Phil Shephard

If you enjoyed The World’s Fastest Indian, you’ll recognise the framework of this – a dogged obsession to make a machine travel much faster than intended. Not a record car as such, but a road vehicle – an E-type. There’s a long tradition of this – absurd speeds in MGs and a super-slippery Citroën CX come to mind – but this one is a 10-year chase by father and son over Australian salt flats. 

There’s frankly too much diary detail included for the casual reader, but with generous photos it illustrates a record-chasing culture that’s literally a world away from Bonneville. And yes, it ends in triumph with an impressive 170mph from the much-raced Jag. A big book, but expensive. GC

Published by Motoring Past

ISBN: 978-0-9872808-2-4, Aus$99.00

Trans-Am Era: The Golden Years in Photographs: 1966-1972

Daniel Lipetz

Common racing parlance translates Trans-Am’s ‘golden years’ as the period from the series’ birth, when top-line drivers (Mark Donohue, George Follmer, Dan Gurney, Bob Tullius and others) hustled production-based saloons that were mostly at least Camaro-sized, to the time that they were replaced by tube-frame silhouettes in 1973. With a foreword by Parnelli Jones, another star turn of the era, this is an affectionate throwback that underlines the series’ considerable strengths.

Action shots are complemented by lovely paddock candids, and extended captions tie the whole thing together. One of the least likely images features a Plymouth Barracuda leading a Cortina at Virginia Raceway in 1966… with what looks like a BMC 1300 parked on the bridge overhead (unless there was a V8 version for the US market).

Trans-Am lives on, of course, with a multi-class structure featuring both production-based cars and fibreglass-bodied spaceframes. It continues to be contested by Mustangs, Camaros, Dodge Chargers and their ilk and is thus a good thing, albeit a touch less charismatic than the original. SA

Published by David Bull

ISBN: 978-1-935007-20-3, $69.95

Pit and Paddock: Behind the scenes at UK and European circuits in the ’60s and ’70s

Peter Darley

A celebration of the golden age of motor racing, Pit and Paddock is a stunning photographic record of a time when access to cars and drivers was virtually unlimited. 

Previously unseen photography from the personal archive of Peter Darley captures the stories, intimate moments and psychology of the starring drivers from the ’60s and
’70s, from pitlanes and paddocks across Britain and Europe.

 Many a reader will doubtless be reminded of intimate trackside moments of their own, from a time when the likes of Clark, Stewart and Gurney were happy to drive any car at any level. Chapters of stunning black-and-white photography are dedicated to 10 principal circuits of the time, from Crystal Palace in south London to the streets of Monaco on the Côte d’Azur, narrating stories of the characters who competed at a time of relative innocence and warm sportsmanship. 

A far cry from the paddock paraphernalia of today, Darley’s limited-edition collection offers enthusiasts a fine insight into a great era of motor racing. MT

Published by Coterie Press

ISBN: 978-1-902351-60-5, £75.00 plus p&p