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Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958

Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958: by Willem Oosthoek
Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958: by Willem Oosthoek © Dalton Watson Fine Books

Motor racing in America in the late 1950s was beginning to show a much more organised front across the nation. However, race tracks were spread far and wide, and understandably, the media attention would focus on the main events which were concentrated in the bigger centres, where national and international events were run.

Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958: by Willem Oosthoek
Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958: by Willem Oosthoek © Dalton Watson Fine Books

This left large areas of the country where motor racing still took place, but where the media showed very little interest. Despite this lack of attention by the press, the enthusiasm of the local drivers, clubs, spectators and in many cases local businesses, resulted in a plethora of races held on airfield tracks in these areas.

Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958: by Willem Oosthoek
Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958: by Willem Oosthoek © Dalton Watson Fine Books

For the author, Willem Oosthoek, an avid Maserati aficionado, his work on this book began as a simple quest for information. Unlike in other areas of the country that enjoyed more comprehensive media coverage, the Southern states, with the exception of the Sebring 12 Hours, were largely overlooked by the news and press organisations. Even the SCCA’s own publication tended to focus on the national and international race meetings. Some local newspapers would scarcely cover these meetings, and a brief list of results from the weekend’s racing activities might appear in print in the local paper on Monday morning.

Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958: by Willem Oosthoek
Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958: by Willem Oosthoek © Dalton Watson Fine Books

A further problem was the wide difference in reporting styles, or even what was being reported, these being the very early days of organised motor racing in America. As a result, in some cases very little information existed at all on the races held in the South, or that which did exist, was of such a nature that it made comparisons difficult or impossible.

Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958: by Willem Oosthoek
Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958: by Willem Oosthoek © Dalton Watson Fine Books

The next challenge faced by the author was to define what states “Racing in the South” actually covered. After some deliberation, it was decided to limit the geographical coverage of this book to include (from West to East): New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. For non-American readers, a useful map showing these states and the locations of all the tracks covered in this book, is shown in the back of the book.

Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958: by Willem Oosthoek
Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958: by Willem Oosthoek © Dalton Watson Fine Books

This is the first of three volumes covering this subject, and Volume 1 incorporates racing in 1957 and 1958. Why these years? The year 1957 is widely recognised as the year in which sports car racing’s popularity began to show signs of rapid growth and these events took on a life of their own, often turning into a day out for the whole family. Not only that, but frequently it was local charities who provided event services such as logistics and crowd control, in return for any surplus funds left after all other services and expenses had been settled.

Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958: by Willem Oosthoek
Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958: by Willem Oosthoek © Dalton Watson Fine Books

The reader should remember that these were the days in which race organisation was in its infancy, and as such, record keeping in the form of race results was often an overlooked function. With this in mind, the author must be commended for the huge task that he undertook in literally scouring the countryside for race information and results. His first logical port of call would be the period car magazines and national newspapers, then local libraries were searched for local newspaper reports on the races. When these often proved difficult to find or the reporting was sketchy, the author turned to the personal records and scrapbooks of some of the drivers who participated in period. In addition, the author has interviewed many of the drivers, mechanics and owners that were involved in the sport in those days.

Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958: by Willem Oosthoek
Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958: by Willem Oosthoek © Dalton Watson Fine Books

Being an author myself, I can fully appreciate what it is like looking for material that (almost) doesn’t exist, so this must have been a huge undertaking by Willem Oosthoek. With this in mind, the reader of this book and the subsequent two volumes, can take heart that this work will most certainly become the resource of preference for many researchers and authors who follow in the future.

Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958: by Willem Oosthoek
Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958: by Willem Oosthoek © Dalton Watson Fine Books

Despite painting a picture that racing in the South perhaps appeared second-rate in comparison with the North East or the West Coast, that was by no means the case, at least as far as cars on track was concerned. Many of the events would see late-model Ferraris, Maseratis, Jaguars, Porsches, OSCAs and Climax-engined cars such as Lotus, Cooper and Elva which did battle with American V8-powered vehicles including Corvettes and homebuilt Specials.

Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958: by Willem Oosthoek
Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958: by Willem Oosthoek © Dalton Watson Fine Books

In this volume, the author presents a race-by-race account of the races that took place in the South where each race is covered individually with overall and class winners from Novice races to the Feature race. However, with the lack of results and race details available, race results have been limited to the Modified races which would usually include better-known drivers behind the wheel of those cars.

Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958: by Willem Oosthoek
Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958: by Willem Oosthoek © Dalton Watson Fine Books

There are some priceless colour photos that show just how elementary motor racing was in those days, where race cars were frequently driven to the circuit, raced, and then driven home again. Race crew would often include wives, girlfriends, children and weekend warriors, showing just how all-inclusive the sport was back then. But then some photos also show exotic sports cars, and some well-known drivers, illustrating the happy birth of the sport. The wide range of images, both black & white and colour, is as entertaining as it is informative. With the absence of the big newspapers and the small army of professional photographers who would follow the big races, a large proportion of the images have been supplied by celebrated photographer, Bob Jackson. His work is outstanding, considering that we are talking about the 1950s. But apart from Jackson’s excellent work, many of the images have been sourced from snaps taken by family members and friends and there is, as can be expected, a wide variation in the quality of some photos. Having said that, it shows in the clearest way possible, the early state of the sport in this region, but in no way does this detract from the quality of the read. In fact, if anything, it just brings home the friendly, all-inclusive manner in which these races were run.

Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958: by Willem Oosthoek
Sports Car Racing in the South: Texas to Florida 1957-1958: by Willem Oosthoek © Dalton Watson Fine Books

This book is a fantastic, incomparable record of racing in the southern states during the two years 1957 and 1958, as it gives results and valuable commentary of those early days. It is a large format book comprising good quality paper, and whole style and layout is open, easy to read and uncluttered. If your desire is to enjoy this period of racing, then you should not be without a copy of this fine piece of work.

Key information

Title Sports Car Racing in the South
Sub-title Texas to Florida 1957-1958
Author Willem Oosthoek
Publisher Dalton Watson Fine Books
Published April 2011
ISBN 978-1-85443-246-9
Page count 264 pages
Images 343 B&W and 121 colour
Format 330 x 240 mm (portrait), hardback with dust jacket
Price £80.00/US$125.00
Available www.daltonwatson.com, or from fine automotive book retailers

Written by: Glen Smale

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