Monday, March 5, 2018

Book Report: Daring Drivers, Deadly Tracks, By Brian Redman

To answer the basic question, yes, this is a page-turner.  At least if you are interested in road racing in the 1960's and 1970's.  Redman's writing is as engaging as his after-dinner speeches.  The book has plenty of high-quality pictures, most in color, some rare.  It is organized in an interesting way: some chapters are an account of a given season, others group his experience of legendary circuits.

Daring Drivers, Deadly Tracks is, in many ways, a backward-looking reality check.  Redman bears down on his theme that the human cost of racing was unacceptable.  He stresses how he (and others) were in denial about the risks.  It wasn't so much that drivers tried to refute or deflect thinking about risk.  They simply put it out of their minds. Redman often couldn't sleep the night before a major race. Then he went out and raced--hard.  He is grateful to have survived three potentially fatal crashes.  He gives full credit to Jackie Stewart (and others) for leading a charge toward passive safety.  He didn't participate in it.

Road racing at the top level was so different then.  In 1970, by then a firmly established pro driver, Redman was paid $750 per race (plus expenses) except for $1000 each for Daytona, Sebring, and LeMans, by Porsche.  His 10-race income was $8250.  My salary for my first job out of college, which did not involve risking life or limb, was $8400.  Using the rule-of-thumb X10 Inflation Factor, Redman would have been making something north of $84,000 in today's money.  No front-rank international driver would pick up the phone, now, for that.

For that matter, Redman explains his few appearances in Formula 1 thus: he could make way more money racing in Formula 5000 in the States, in a more competitive but relaxed series, in a car that was just as fast as a Grand Prix car.  Yes, he did race Ferrari 312 PB sports cars in Europe very successfully in the early 1970's.  But who needed the pressure and emotional abuse of driving in Formula 1 for Enzo? Redman was, first and foremost, a driver-for-hire.  He went where there was the most money, best chance of winning, and least aggravation.

BTW, off-topic, the best, most makes-the-hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck-stand-up, racing I have ever seen was Formula 5000.  Those cars were insane beasts.  They handled better than Can-Am cars.  But that made them faster through corners.  There was nothing between you and and a hard hit if things went pear-shaped.  And they were open wheel cars, so the chance of something going wrong was higher than in a Can-Am car.   

Redman confirms that drivers could feel the frames of Porsche 917's flex.  And so on.  It was a thrill to read about, and recall, the glory days of balls-out road racing.  But I don't miss them.