GRR

Two great racing books for Christmas | Thank Frankel it's Friday

25th November 2022
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

I don’t often do book reviews in this spot, but I’ve already received my first Christmas card and I don’t think I’m going to be able to ignore the fast-approaching festive season for much longer. Besides, a couple have landed on the mat which have more than piqued my interest.

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The first and more affordable is ‘Driven To Crime’ by Crispian Besley and it’s a book I’d love to have written but never had the time. It’s essentially 66 different stories, each with a single person as its subject, most of whom through means fair and usually foul, earned a reputation of being among the wrong ‘uns within the world of motorsport. And I guess the first observation is that an industry so young should already have thrown up far more than its fair share of ne’er do wells.

Some, it should be said, were not criminals at all. I was initially surprised to see the name of none other than Juan Manuel Fangio in the apparent rogue’s gallery that makes up the contents page, but it turns out it’s just the well-known tale of him being the subject of one of the world’s more benevolent kidnappings after qualifying for the 1958 Cuban Grand Prix. He was well treated, quickly released unharmed and claimed to have more than a certain sympathy with his abductors.

All other usual suspects – Lord Brocket, Colin Chapman, Bertrand Gachot, Vic Lee, Randy Lanier, the notorious Whittington brothers and so on – are here but I was sad to see the late Max Mosley’s private life brought up again in a book sub-titled ‘True Stories Of Wrongdoing In Motor Racing’. Besley tells the tale honestly and impartially and makes clear he committed no crime and was a victim, not a perpetrator. just wish someone would write about the perhaps more important subject of all the millions of lives he helped save as a tireless road safety campaigner.

But I digress and there are some fascinating tales here too. I had no idea that 1935 Le Mans winner Luis Fontes was convicted and jailed for manslaughter or that one Angela Harkness created and funded an entire NASCAR team on fraudulent bank loans and was eventually imprisoned; or the story of the fabulously implausibly entitled Ricardo Londoño-Bridge (which we are assured really was his actual name), how he became the first Colombian F1 driver (sort of) before being murdered.

Besley writes in an accessible, straightforward style across a range of subjects that will appeal to motor racing newbies and grizzled old hands alike.

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Jon Saltinstall’s ‘Jacky Ickx, His Authorised Competition History’ is a very different kind of book. Across over 600 pages it covers the great man’s career – from his first motocross ride in Belgium at the age of 16 in 1961 to his last competitive drive some 39 years later in the 2000 Dakar-Cairo rally.

What strikes most, is the man’s extraordinary versatility. We remember Jacky’s exploits in F1, sports car racing and the Dakar rally but I knew nothing of his stunning career on trials bikes, his hill climbing record and little of his participation in many other racing disciplines.

As a book, you should take its title literally. It is indeed his competition history, event by event, all 483 of them that took place on four wheels, and if that is what you want, it comes highly recommended. What it is not, in any sense, in a biography of Jacky Ickx. Bar the introduction, and a Foreword written by Derek Bell, there is little of the man in here. Ickx’s own preface as is modest as we have come to expect from a man always keen to heap praise on others, underplays his own achievements and is most keen to recognise the fans without whom no-one races at the professional level.

It would have been no less informative and far more interesting, if these had been ghosted first-person accounts with a strong subjective element too, like ‘Stirling Moss – All My Races’ a quite brilliant book written with the late Alan Henry. Just don’t blame Saltinstall. I’ve tried to get Jacky to talk about his races in the past: I remember asking him about his 163mph pole lap at the old Spa in 1973 driving a Ferrari 312PB and within about five seconds he’d managed to turn the conversation around to establishing freshwater supplies in remote African villages.

Two good books, then, as you’d expect from Evro. Driven to Crime costs £45, and Jacky Ickx, His Authorised Competition History some £95. Neither is perfect nor close to it, but for very different reasons I’d say both are worth it. Especially if you buy from Amazon where both are available for a fiver less…

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images

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