First impressions – Can-Am 50th Anniversary is a big book! It’s not that it is so thick, but dimensionally it is large in length and breadth, so you had best find yourself a nice big, comfy armchair, and settle back for the ride of a lifetime.
The publisher’s marketing blurb puts it this way, “Feel the speed in this dazzlingly illustrated book on the over the top, no limits road racing series that ran between 1966 and 1974 with Can-Am 50th Anniversary.” This statement hits the nail on the head, and as a result, this book was chosen as the 2017 Gold Medal Winner of the International Automotive Media Competition, and deservedly so.
A little word about Can-Am for those who might be new to the class of racing. The rules, well there were no rules, except a few like the cars had to have covered in wheels and a kind of a passenger seat, but engine capacity was unlimited as were aerodynamic aids. As a result, you found the most outrageous wing constructions that would have looked more at home on a Boeing B-50 Superfortress, if it was flying upside-down.
But in reality, what this class of racing produced was engineering and technical innovations the likes of which had never been seen before. Ultra-low bodies, super-wide bodywork, some had monstrous 8-litre engines while others had turbocharged engines that produced up to 1500bhp on the dynamometer. Oh, and did I mention that the very best sports car racing drivers on the planet participated in the series? These included the likes of Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, Mark Donohue, George Follmer, Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme, Phil Hill, Peter Revson, Jody Scheckter and the list goes on.
The grid was made up of race cars that were created in backyard garages, specialist teams such as McLaren, Chaparral and Lola, as well as the big manufacturers such as Porsche, Chevrolet, Ford and Ferrari. Their playground stretched across America and Canada, with some drivers even skipping Formula 1 races to compete in the Can-Am series. Porsche was quite a late entrant into this series, but it has been suggested that, due to the total domination of the Penske Porsches – George Follmer’s 917/10 in 1972 and Mark Donohue’s 917/30 in 1973 – that the Can-Am series was brought to a close at the end of the 1974 season.
However, to the book now and its contents. Having read through much of the book, I must admit to being very envious of not being there in person when this series was taking place in real time. The way in which the author, George Levy and photographer Pete Biro, have captured the atmosphere of the series is exceptional. This was a time when journalists and photographers could, with the right accreditation, get up close and personal with the teams and the drivers, and Levy and Biro have done a superb job of making this book jump in your hands.
As an author, I have also interviewed several of the drivers and team personnel mentioned in this book, but Levy has the added advantage of being not just a first-class writer, but also being able to write from his own first-hand experiences on the day. The interviews are great, and in many cases really funny too, because of what the teams could get up to and what they could get away with. The awesome power and speed of the cars produced some truly hilarious stories, and the author has successfully captured the atmosphere and character of the people in such a way that you feel you were there too on race day.
The book’s sub-title, Flat Out With North America’s Greatest Race Series, does really capture the essence of what this book is all about. With huge prize money, the drivers were given that extra incentive to drive harder and faster, but it was not just a matter of mashing your foot to the floor, because the speed differential between the front and the back of the grid was substantial. As a result, drivers had to be really careful, picking their way through the field as they lapped backmarkers with regular monotony. Levy has also captured the character of some of the characters so well, like the way that Woody Woodard describes his boss, Roger Penske.
This publication will keep you smiling and engrossed from cover to cover. It’s hard to imagine, that a little more than fifty years has passed since this no-holds-barred era of motorsport kicked off, but this book captures the uniqueness of that 8-year period so well. Once you have this book in your collection, your eyes will be drawn to it, and time and time again you will find yourself pulling it off the bookshelf to read your favourites bits once again. Enjoy!
Can-Am 50th Anniversary
Flat Out with North America’s Greatest Race Series 1966-74
31 October 2016
24.7 x 30.5cm, hardback
150 colour & 200 b/w photos
Written by: Glen Smale
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