ATLAS F1   Volume 7, Issue 15

The Bookworm Critique
By Karl Ludvigsen.
Published by Haynes.
by Mark Glendenning,

Karl Ludvigsen's string of driver biographies shouldn't need much of an introduction. All have enjoyed a relatively high profile, both in the Atlas F1 forums and elsewhere, and one, 'Juan Manuel Fangio: Motor Racing's Grand Master', has featured in this space previously. This study of the career of Dan Gurney is the fourth in a series that, along with Fangio, has also featured Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart, and was recently expanded to include Alberto Ascari.

Dan Gurney is a particularly welcome subject for such a book, partly because his impact upon the sport is possibly under-appreciated amongst Formula One's general fan base. Gurney is respected almost to the point of reverence by those sensitive to motor racing's history, but for some reason he seems to have made less of an impression amongst followers of the modern version of the sport. I did a quick poll amongst some friends who are casual Formula One fans. All knew Moss and Fangio, and Stewart's consistent profile within the sport through the years has cemented his fame amongst the newer generation, but quite a few people either knew Gurney only by name, or did not know of him at all. If this book goes even a small way toward changing this, then that alone will prove its worth.

Not that much proof of the value of this book is really necessary, because by and large Ludvigsen has done an admirable job. 'The Ultimate Racer' follows Gurney's full professional career. Relatively little space is allocated to the early years of Gurney's life, and virtually none is devoted to his life after racing. But for brief excursions back and forwards through time, the book traces a chronological path through the years that Gurney spent in the cockpits of sports cars, Formula One cars, Indy cars, stock cars, and pretty much anything else that he came across.

I hope that what I'm about to say doesn't sound too vague, but for me the strongest element of 'The Ultimate Racer' is its overall integrity. A great deal of effort has gone into the research, and it shows. The material is drawn both from general sources and from the author's own conversations with Gurney, whom, according to the author bio on the inside back dust cover, Ludvigsen first met in 1958 - a year before the American made his Formula One debut.

One of the calling cards of this series of biographies has been that it has relied as heavily upon images it does on words to create a portrait of a driver's career, and 'The Ultimate Racer' continues the tradition. Many of the photos come from the author's own archive, but there is also a good selection of shots from some of the sport's most famous shutterbugs. Some of the Jesse Alexander shots are real standouts (then again, his shots usually are). My personal favourites are the colour shots of Gurney navigating a characteristically wet Spa-Francorchamps during the 1965 Belgian Grand Prix, but there are many other that would also warrant a mention if space permitted. All the photos are well reproduced helped to a great extent by the quality of the paper upon which they are printed.

Another highlight was the inclusion of an annotated bibliography; something that I think gets overlooked far too often. Not only is it useful to know where an author found their information, it's also important to understand how they used their findings. Ludvigsen's bibliography doesn't go into a huge amount of detail, but it does help to give the reader some clues about how the author approached his subject. As an added bonus of course, annotated bibliographies can also help when you're trying to decide what book you are going to buy next!

One thing that was left out that I feel would have been beneficial is some kind of table outlining Gurney's race results. The one problem I sometimes had with this book was that Gurney has his fingers in so many pies during his career that I occasionally had to backtrack to remind myself what kind of car he was driving at a particular moment. Some kind of reference in the appendix that listed his major races, the results, and the machinery that he used would have provided a quick solution to the problem, and would have also been a useful resource for those times when you find yourself needing to look up some particular snippet of information. Such details can be found with a little more effort if you use the index, of course, but being in favour of anything that makes a book more user-friendly (and also being basically lazy), I think it is worth mentioning.

It's a small complaint that amounts to little when weighed up against everything else that this book has to offer. If you're a Gurney fan then this book is essential. (OF course, if you're a Gurney fan, then you have probably already gone out and bought it). "The Ultimate Racer' probably doesn't have the kind of cross-over appeal that will attract younger fans of the sport, but if that's you and you happen to be considering dipping your toes into a one of the sport's most fascinating eras then this book could be a good place to start.

Editorial Note: Karl Ludvigsen is a senior writer at Atlas F1. However, he had no involvement in the decision to review this book, nor in the review's outcome.

Mark Glendenning© 2007
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