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Book Review - Cars at Speed

A Nearly Forgotten Era

By Robert Daley

Cars at Speed by Robert Daley

Reviewed by Chuck Arehart

Originally published in 1961, Cars at Speed looks at the early years of international racing. In the introduction to this new edition, Daley points out that the primary dissimilarities between professional racing then and now concern death and money. Risks were much greater then, with rewards not nearly as great as now, and this book provides an excellent history of the drivers, cars and courses of that time. Many fans of modern day racing who have become knowledgeable about the sport’s last decade or two can’t even begin to realize how horrifically deadly racing was back then. Drivers were not the only ones at risk, as many spectators were also killed. The first chapter recounts the 1957 Mille Miglia when Marquis Alfonso de Portago lost control of his Ferrari and was killed, along with his co-driver and eleven spectators.

Daley unearths an interesting relationship between auto racing in the early 1900’s and the early explorers. After the dawn of the automotive age, races were run on public roads from city to city and took days to complete. The roads were barely more than improved wagon trails and simply finding a known destination was just as important as getting there with any speed.

Daley writes with great detail and imagery, introducing the reader to the personas of the drivers, the problems or greatness of a particular car and the challenges of a course. Some of those courses include Grand Prix of past and present, as well as open road and sports car tracks. Illustrations begin each chapter and course maps relating to specific races are included, but the book could have been further enhanced with photography of that era. The writing style and tone seem dated as well, but perhaps that’s the best way to read about some of the most famous races and the legends who drove them.

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(Updated: 12/12/11 NW)

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