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For many people, a great read; for motor racing fans, a "must read",
This review is from: Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans (Hardcover)Up front, I need to acknowledge that I have almost no interest in automobile racing competition. However, I did enjoy seeing the 1966 film starring James Garner, Grand Prix, and reading James MacGregor's book, Sunday Money: Speed! Lust! Madness! Death! A Hot Lap Around America with NASCAR (2005). That said, I now acknowledge that A. J. Baime's Go Like Hell is one of the most entertaining as well as one of the most informative books I have read in many years. Moreover, it is much less about automotive racing than it is about the competition between two industrialists, Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari, to Dominate Formula One racing in the 1960s. However, viewed (as it should be) as a human drama, there are several other prominent characters who are centrally involved in the various conflicts: Lee Iacocca and his chief engineer, Donald Frey, Phil Hill, Carroll Shelby, John Surtees, Ken Miles, Bruce McLaren, Walt Hangsden, and Mario Andretti.
As Charles McGrath points out in an article about Baime in The New York Times (6/09/09), "The centerpiece of the story is the quest by Henry Ford II, or the Deuce, as he was known, to end Ferrari's string of victories at Le Mans, the 24-hour road race that at the time was probably the world's most dangerous sporting event. He was convinced that Ford's racing success would translate into sales back home in the showroom, but he was also locked in a personal rivalry with the imperious Enzo Ferrari, head of the Italian car company. It took Ford three tries and countless millions, but he finally prevailed when a Ford GT40 Mk II, driven by Bruce McLaren, won at Le Mans in 1966."
Displaying the world-class skills of a cultural anthropologist and of a raconteur, Baime carefully guides his reader through a narrative of increasing tension and apprehension until Chapters 21-23 during which the 24-hour "Grand Prix of Endurance" is run at La Mans on a racetrack described in the Detroit News as "a cornfield airstrip in the jet age. It was built 50 years ago for cars that went 65 mph. Tomorrow [June 18] 55 race cars - some of them capable of 225 mph on the straightaway and all of them over the 130 mph class - will get off at 10 A.M. (Detroit time) and it will be a miracle if no one gets killed. Nobody is fearless. Some of these drivers are scared stiff." The climactic race in 1966 had an especially controversial conclusion, what was widely viewed as an "infamous photo finish" and won "by a technicality." The details are best revealed within the narrative, in context.
Baime provides a riveting account of the competition between Ferrari and Ford and their respective racing programs, competition creating tension that is almost palpable. He also celebrates the almost incomprehensible courage as well as athleticism, skills, and stamina of those who drive the Formula One cars, notably Phil Hill, John Surtees, Walt Hangsden, and especially Ken Miles. In the Epilogue, Baime answers a question most readers have after learning what happened at Le Mans in 1966: "And then what happened?" It would not spoil it for anyone who has yet to read this book to reveal that the major "players" in this compelling human drama were never quite the same again after that race.
For those such as I who have little (if any) interest in automobile racing competition, this is a great read. For those with such interest, it is a "must read."