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Three books to help you survive the winter solstice

December 22, 2015

There are three books I’ve been sinking my teeth into this season, as the days get shorter and nights are longer. And yes, they all pertain to motorsports and have more to do with people than the technology that separates racing from all other sports in this world

Second to One copy

Anne Proffit photo

During last May’s 99th Indianapolis 500, authors Gordon Kirby and Joseph S. Freeman (also the book’s Racemaker Press publisher) introduced their latest tome, “Second to One: All but for Indy,” about the drivers that have finished second in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Masterful writers who used the investigative skills of Tom Saal to research each of the 40 “first losers” in the 500-mile Memorial Day classic, longtime friends Kirby and Freeman put together a 303-page, oversize hard-cover book that beautifully illustrates the failures of these drivers. All of them might have been drinking milk, but for poor luck, errors on the track or simple fate.

That they were able to get Michael Andretti, certainly the most illustrious, living loser at Indianapolis, to write a foreword for the book, enlisting Tony Kanaan to brief the reader at the close, shows the excellence of choices. Andretti, the second generation driver and father of third-generation shoe Marco (who finished second in his first, 1996 try) has led more laps of the 2.5-mile oval, 431, than any  non-victorious driver; he speaks of his failures to win this all-important race in a superb career.

“Second to One” has many interviews with second-place drivers and their families; the photographs secured by Freeman and Kirby are superb, which is no surprise, as they’ve been working in the industry for nearly a half-century each. This one is not to be missed and can be purchased directly from the publisher or through customary secondary sales opportunities. Cost is $75 and definitely worth it.

Top Fuel for Life copy

Anne Proffit photo

Racing is a mistress, no doubt about that, and it can be a major distraction to the personal lives of all involved. Winning a race can become more important than a life partner, or even life, as my friend Jim Oberhofer discovered. The vice president of operations for Kalitta Racing in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ Top Fuel and Funny Car categories, Oberhofer is also the crew chief and tuner for owner Connie Kalitta’s nephew Doug Kalitta.

In the sport since childhood, Jim O (as everyone calls him) discovered that racing really isn’t life when his wife Tammy became ill and subsequently died of cancer. He decided to tell his story, “Top Fuel for Life: Life Lessons from a Crew Chief” in order to help himself heal and to, perhaps, help others in the sport realize that it isn’t what makes you a better person.

Oberhofer’s 262-page soft-cover and self-published tome should be required reading in drag racing or any other faction of the sport. It tells Jim O’s story of growing up in the business, living hard and fast (well, it is drag racing he’s doing) and neglecting everything and anything outside the sport. At $19.95, and available through Amazon, Jim O’s story transcends motorsport and applies itself to every facet of living on earth. Read it with a box of tissues nearby.
Tyler Alexander cover (cmyk)
The final book I’m suggesting for winter reading is about a man I’ve known for well more than 30 years, Tyler James Alexander. His story: Tyler Alexander: A Life and Times with McLaren was penned prior to the subject’s stroke and allows readers to hear from a true insider in the racing game. Born outside of Boston yet more British than American (he’s lived there since Bruce McLaren brought his team to the UK), Tyler’s story is a tale of a savvy mechanic, engineer and team manager.

Originally, Alexander went to work with Timmy Mayer, the brother of Teddy Mayer, but when the driver died both Tyler and Teddy went to work with Bruce McLaren. Following that fabulous driver’s demise, they took over McLaren and managed it until Ron Dennis became its chief.

During his tenure, Tyler Alexander did more than work on the cars; he carried a camera with him and produced some truly awesome photographs. Because he was so well known to his subjects, they would occasionally show him the international sign of respect as he snapped a mug shot; his innate understanding of what a car does allowed Alexander to photograph racing cars at their best and, occasionally worst.

Never expect platitudes from Tyler Alexander; a blunt man with a ribald sense of humor, his memories encompass what many call the Golden Years of motorsport, in particular Formula 1 and Indy car racing. David Bull Publishing is the publisher of this hard-cover, 456-page book that has 47 black-and-white and 110 color images. It retails for $55 in the USA and £37 in the UK. It’s definitely a must-read, must-have tome for the racing enthusiast that wants the inside story.

By Anne Proffit

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