This is the beginning of a series of book reviews on early American racing, written by some very committed authors and published by Dalton Watson Fine Books. Mid-Atlantic American Sports Car Races 1953-1962 is the first of these books to be reviewed, and what an impressive piece of work by author Terry O’Neil.
When most folk talk about early motorsport in America, thoughts tend to migrate towards the birth of the hot rod era in Southern California, or the circuits up the West Coast. For a number of reasons, the Mid-Atlantic sports car scene was not as developed as it was in California or the more densely populated North East states, as the author explains. For the benefit of our readers in other parts of the world, the Mid-Atlantic states of America include Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington DC. For the sake of completeness, and as such a detailed study on this subject was unlikely to be undertaken again for some time, the author has included Louisville, Kentucky and North Carolina.
That’s a whole lot of race tracks where there were enthusiastic motorsport activities taking place, but to make matters more difficult, incomplete entry lists and race results were not uncommon. This situation, which is not limited to the USA, existed because in the early 1950s there was little thought given to the historical side of timekeeping or the longevity of records that today’s motorsport enthusiast expects.
But full marks must be given to the author for tackling a subject as complex as this one, and as the book’s press release says, the history of sports car racing in these states ‘in the 1950s and 1960s has long been talked of but never thoroughly documented until now’. One of the problems cited by the author was that Mid-Atlantic states did not enjoy the affluence of its more northerly neighbours, and as a result sports car dealerships were few and far between. Added to this was the fact that this region was not known for its industrial resources or financial centres, instead it was a government centre whose employees did not enjoy the trappings of wealth found in other parts of the USA.
As the main growth region for motorsport in the early 1950s was Southern California, that region also became better established in terms of race organisation, frequency of races and race administration. In this respect, the Mid-Atlantic region lagged behind somewhat, which made the work of this author that much more difficult. The research required to write this book has been gleaned from newspaper reports and those magazines who were inclined to mention some race results. As the author says in the front of the book, it was ‘unusual to find more than a paragraph in any publication on most of the events and most results only showed the first two or three finishers in any one race. Race programmes, too, were similarly thin on detail and would often not distinguish sufficiently between models of, for example, the Porsche 356 Convertible or Speedster. The author makes no apologies for this, and neither should he, as this was common practice for the day.
With the above in mind, the author is to be commended all the more for having stuck to the task at hand, as he has compiled a very comprehensive and detailed record of events between the years 1953 and 1962. The period covered may appear to be a random set of years, but this was carefully considered by the author. As the author states in the Introduction, “…it covers one of the most important periods in American sports car racing history. It is no coincidence that it marked the end of amateur sports car racing within the SCCA as 1963 was to see the introduction by the SCCA of the new professional racing series, namely the United States Road Racing Championship…” – I will leave the rest for the lucky readers of this fine book to delve into. Suffice it to be said, that these were formative years in motorsport anywhere in the world, and the early 1950s was without doubt a time of new beginnings and new horizons.
Each of the ten years covered by this book is given its own chapter, which starts with a comprehensive introductory text explaining the lie of the land that year. Each chapter then launches into a race-by-race report with results and some truly valuable and insightful images showing racing at certain tracks. As the author says, organising a race meeting had its own challenges, but getting the spectators to buy into a new form of track racing was also no small task, especially in the Mid-Atlantic states. Remember that this was not the wealthiest region of America, but the locals were nevertheless keen to see the plethora of imported racing machinery in action.
It is interesting to see the style of early motor racing photography which shows Maseratis, Ferraris and Porsches parked in the fields in an area that would have been given over to serve as the paddock. Race stewards and marshals stood at the edge of the tarmac waving their flags without any real protection from the speeding cars. The book is a real eye-opener into an age long gone.
It is unlikely that too many other books of this depth of detail and completeness, covering an important chapter in American motor racing, are going to be written anytime soon. This is a really good opportunity to grab yourself a slice of motor racing history, in a limited series book (pre-numbered), just 600 have been printed, and autographed by the author.
Mid-Atlantic American Sports Car Races 1953-1962
Dalton Watson Fine Books
330 x 240 mm (portrait), hardback with dust jacket and slip case