The way we follow racing has changed greatly over the years, and information is available to us much more quickly than it was in the past. Video has taken over from static words as the most popular delivery mechanism.
But when it comes to in-depth analysis, nothing beats a good book. Perhaps driven by the publicity generated by the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 this year, 2016 was a vintage year for racing-related books.
Christmas is nearly upon us, but thanks to the miracle of modern parcel couriers, it's still not too late to make your favorite racing fan happy during this holiday season. Here are my recommendations; unless noted, all are available through Amazon.com or BN.com.
"Penske's Maestro: Karl Kainhofer and the History of Penske Racing" and "Tony Bettenhausen & Sons: An American Racing Family Album", by Gordon Kirby; available at www.racemaker.com
Kirby covered all forms of American motorsport from the early 1970s into the 21st century and earned a place as one of the key historians of that era. Until Roger Penske takes the time to pen a memoir (don't count on it), Kirby's Kainhofer biography, combined with the late Mark Donohue's "The Unfair Advantage," is the best way to learn why Penske Racing has achieved so much success over the last 50 years. Kainhofer preferred to remain behind the scenes, so he didn't get the attention or accolades that George Bignotti or Jim McGee enjoyed. But he was a huge part of Team Penske well into the 1990s, and his legacy is carried on by men throughout the NASCAR and Indy car industry.
"Lionheart: Remembering Dan Wheldon", by Andy Hallbery and Jeff Olson; available at www.lionheartbook.com
Hallbery and Olson did a masterful job of curating a collection of essays about the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner who was on the brink of a career rebirth when he was killed in an Indy car accident at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in late 2011. Wheldon was a complex character, and the theme that shines through these lovingly produced tributes is that he tended to irritate people before ultimately winning them over.
"Kussmaul Chronicles", by Craig Watkins; available at www.kussmaulchronicles.com
Roland Kussmaul is a Porsche "lifer" who played a key role in developing many important production and racing cars. His colorful engineering and driving career is portrayed in an unusual way by American racing engineer Craig Watkins in the form of a lengthy conversation. It can be a challenging read at times, as Watkins chose to use Kussmaul's English-as-a-second-language words verbatim rather than attempting to change the syntax. It helps if you can read using an imaginary German accent. Even more helpful, QR codes are scattered throughout the book so you can hear Kussmaul speaking the words in his own voice. There is so much great information in this book, along with priceless behind-the-scenes pictures, that it's worth the effort.
"Josef, The Indy Car Driver", by Chris Workman; available at www.apexlegends.com
There are racing books aimed at all ages, and Chris Workman is covering the younger end of the market with a growing series of titles. "Josef, The Indy Car Driver" does a nice job of explaining to kids how a young driver like Josef Newgarden advances through go karts to Indy cars. Workman does the illustrations too, and all aspects of his work earned a seal of approval from my 10-year-old son.
"The Sheer Force of Will Power", by David Malsher
Although aimed at more of a mainstream reader, this book kept me entertained. I've known Power since he started racing in the Champ Car-sanctioned Indy car series in 2005, yet I learned a lot about the man and found the passages narrated by Power's wife Liz to be particularly interesting. Malsher does a great job telling the tale of an Australian with an unlikely name making a name for himself in America.
"Can-Am 50th Anniversary: Flat Out With North America's Greatest Racing Series 1966-74", by George Levy with photography by Pete Biro
Similar to the way the Kainhofer and Donohue books tell the story of Penske Racing, George Levy's re-examination of the legendary Can-Am series is the perfect companion to Pete Lyons' 1995 "Can-Am Photo History." While that book gave an event-by-event account of the short-lived sports car championship, Levy uncovers many of the backstories that have added to the Can-Am legend over the years.
"Indy 500 Memories: An Oral History of 'The Greatest Spectacle In Racing'", by Art Garner and Marc B. Spiegel
On the heels of his well-received "Black Noon," a detailed examination of the tragic 1964 Indianapolis 500, Art Garner teamed with longtime PR professional Marc Spiegel to collect a series of Indy memories. There's a long list of characters from all sides of the sport, and of course every race fan has some kind of Indianapolis memory. This volume merely scratches the surface.
"A Big Ask: The Story of Ford's Triumphant Return to Le Mans", by David Phillips
The Ford-versus-Ferrari battle at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the mid-1960s is one of racing's best stories. Now, 50 years later, Ford successfully pursued an encore to its famous 1966 overall victory, albeit this time in the lesser GTE Pro class. Chip Ganassi Racing was selected to run teams based in Europe and the U.S., and who better to document the effort than Phillips, who served as Ganassi's personal PR man in the late '70s when Chip was a fledgling Formula Ford racer.