The Bookworm Critique
By Louis T. Stanley;
Published by Salamander
by Mark Glendenning,

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Louis Stanley's involvement in motorsport extends back over several decades. He has worked in a number of capacities during that time, however most racing fans know him best as the head of the BRM team. The list of drivers that raced under him read as a who's who of racing in the 1960s and 1970s - Collins, Hill, Hawthorn, Stewart, Lauda. Coupled with his early efforts toward improving driver safety and his involvement with an assortment of other organizations, including the Grand Prix Drivers Association, it would seem that there are few people better qualified to offer their thoughts on the state of play in Formula One. That he has chosen to do so is a good thing, and the fact that he has a reputation for being rather opinionated only served to further convince me that I was in for a good time when I picked this book up. And while it did not manage to completely live up to my expectations, it still proved to be a reasonably good read.

Stanley is responsible for both the words and the images in 'Strictly Off The Record', and straight off the bat it must be said that the photographs were far and away the highlight of the book. That they are his own means that many of them are previously unpublished, and many of them are absolutely brilliant; both for the quality of the shots and the range of subjects that they depict. There are some interesting candid photos that give those of us who weren't around then (like me) some idea of what motor racing must have been like twenty or thirty years ago. The shot of Colin Chapman perched on a stool with a lap chart springs immediately to mind, as does the great photo of Ken Tyrrell and his team on page 45. The action shots are pretty good too, particularly the cover image of Mike Hawthorn wrestling his car through a bend.

On a slightly different note, some of the shots in the chapter on safety are truly sickening. I have read a lot about the era when a death in a racing car was regarded as a regrettable but unavoidable occurrence. Nothing, though, has brought the realities of the period home more efficiently than the images in this book. The shot of Graham Hill flying past Lorenzo Bandini's burning Ferrari, with the Italian still trapped inside, is one of the most terrifying motor racing photos I have ever seen. Even worse was the photo of the remains of an unidentified driver slumped in the smoking remains of his car. Motor racing will never be completely safe, but these shots serve as a reminder of how far the sport has come in trying to take the guesswork out of driver safety.

There is one downside to Stanley's use of his own shots throughout the book, and that is that every second on seems to feature himself, his wife Jean, or both. There's nothing particularly wrong with either of them, but seeing the same heads over and over again did get a little tedious after a while. It also occurred to me to wonder about the 'All photos by Louis Stanley' credit at the start of the book when he seems to be in most of them, but I think we'll let that one go.

As good as the photos are, this is a book that is supposed to be read, rather than simply looked at. As a whole, the text does not quite match the images in terms of quality, but it is still reasonably engaging. There's an overwhelming sense of 'bah humbug' throughout the book whenever Stanley refers to modern Formula One, which is fairly frequently. He is particularly dismissive of the commercialization of the sport, which is fair enough given that it, probably more than any other factor, is responsible for making Formula One what it is today. I personally have few problems with modern F1, partly because I find it easy to take the commercial aspects with a grain of salt and can, like most of us, see the true spirit of the sport beneath the gloss; and partly because I haven't been around long enough to have known anything other than modern F1 anyway.

Nevertheless, it is easy to appreciate the ways in which the sport has changed, and it is not difficult to understand why somebody would not look back fondly on a period when racing was not complicated by external influences like money and television. Being a card-carrying Murray Walker devotee, I found his criticisms of 'The Voice' a little hard to take, but Iguess if ever a commentator was an acquired taste then Murray is the man.

Stanley probably goes a little far when criticizing Syd Watkins for using the 'Professor' title - "it is pompous, out-of-place, and impresses nobody" (p. 117) - if Watkins has earned the right to the title of Professor then he's entitled to use it; besides, Watkins has a reputation as the least pompous individual in the paddock. I suspect that Stanley's comments may come out of a feeling that his contributions to safety in Formula One are being forgotten. If so, he probably has a fair point -I for one was certainly unaware of the true extent of his work in this area until I read this book.

Indeed, the sections that dealt with the developments in safety facilities and procedures were among the highlights of the book. As well as some interesting inclusions such as examples of medical reports from race meetings, these sections also included a good variety of anecdotes. Some were funny, while others served as shocking evidence of just how inadequate the safety facilities at race meeting were during the 1960s. This excerpt, describing Jackie Stewarts's crash at a rain-soaked Spa in 1966 is typical of many contained within the book:

"Stewart, next to spin, went off the road...Graham Hill hit straw bales. Pushing his machine back on the track, he saw Stewart trapped in a wrecked BRM. He tried to free his teammate, but he was trapped in the buckled chassis. Bondurant, badly shaken, crawled out of his damaged car and staggered across to help. Fortunately a spectator provided some tools. Stewart was released and carried to a nearby barn.'

'Twenty-five minutes passed before an ambulance arrived. When I arrived Stewart was still in shock with shoulder, hip, and back injuries plus fuel burns. Instead of a helicopter, he was put in an ambulance. Police outriders did their best to clear the road, but progress was slow, bumpy, and painful. Then the police escort disappeared and the ambulance driver lost his way. Hospital staff at Verviers were helpful, but lacked the facilities of a larger hospital. Jim Clark and I had to assist with X-rays positioning, washing fuel off Stewart's body, shoulder strapping, and so on! Efficient doctors were handicapped by nursing shortages. The drive to Liege was in a vintage ambulance. The driver lost his way three times. The hospital stretcher provided for the flight was useless. Had it been used, Stewart's spine would have been corrugated." (p.110-111).

The rest of the book is similarly enriched with stories drawn from Stanley's personal experience, and they cover everything from Pedro Rodriquez's complicated personal life, to Gloria Swanson's macabre wish to see a fatal accident in a race. The other chapters are similarly varied in the ground that they cover; for my money though, the most interesting was the section on Raymond Mays, the man largely responsible for the BRM V16 - one of the most monstrously overpowered racing cars ever produced, and a shining example of the what happens when enthusiasm gets the better of common sense.

All up then, this was a reasonably good read. That it is written by somebody from the inside is one of the book's great strengths, because second-hand information, no matter how well researched it may be, can rarely compete with original anecdotes and insights that come from personal experience. Stanley is quite happy to call things as he sees them, and it's almost certain that you'll find yourself disagreeing with him sometimes, but that's all part of the fun. If you're interested in this particular era of racing then this book is probably worth checking out.

Mark Glendenning© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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