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Racing Reads: Add Horsepower to Holidays

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, December 22 2021

Author Glen Smale recounts Porsche’s 70 years of competition at Le Mans.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

FORT WORTH, Texas – There is no substitute for victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a corporate mindset that has defined Porsche’s record-setting history in the world’s most prestigious sports car endurance race.

Various Porsche models have made 70 successive starts and racked up 19 outright victories in the twice-around-the-clock French classic since the marque’s debut in 1951. Those are more starts and wins than any rival manufacturer badged Audi (13 wins) and Ferrari (59 starts) _ stats punctuated by Porsche’s record seven consecutive victories from 1981 to 1987.

Porschephiles searching for a last-minute holiday addition to their coffee tables or motorsports libraries will find Porsche at Le Mans:70 Years the perfect offseason read and/or gift. Compiled by acclaimed Porsche historian Glen Smale, the 320-page book featuring photographs, narrative and race results rates as the definitive illustrated history of the German manufacturer’s dominant seven decades of competition at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

“In my opinion, I don’t think Porsche will let anyone overtake their tally of wins,” Smale said via an email interview with RacinToday.com from his home in Carmarthenshire, West Wales. “Their whole existence has been built on endurance racing, right from their very first competitive event with the little 356s back in 1948. To give that crown away might undermine what the company has achieved.”

Indeed, Porsche made its first Le Mans start in 1951 with a streamlined 356 model, complete with aerodynamic wheel fairings. The No. 46 Gmund coupe shared by French drivers Auguste Veuillet and Edmond Mouche finished 20th overall while beating the record for shortest time spent in the pits. The result was a preview of Porsche’s pursuit of perfection with its werks and privateer teams.

The No. 19 Porsche 919 Hybrid heads to victory at Le Mans in 2015.

Since that 1951 race, Porsche has been represented at every running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans by models including the 550 Spyder, 718 RSK, 904, 906, 907, 908, 910, 917, 936, 935, 956, 962 and GT1 _ right up to the 919 that won from 2015 to 2017. Not to be overlooked in this rollcall is the ubiquitous 911, weapon of choice among privateer/gentleman racer entrants.

“The 917 is the favourite of many Porschephiles, and racing enthusiasts in general,” said Smale, a 64-year-old native of South Africa who moved to the United Kingdom in 1999. “But I have a few ‘favourites.’ First would be the 956/962. I think this is just the most awesome Prototype race car of all time. Next that ‘Moby Dick’ 935/78 is also right up there; then I would have to mention some of the earlier 911 S racers and the Carreras of the early ‘70s.

“So it isn’t just one car. If you look at all of these I have mentioned, they were all air-cooled (some part water-cooled) and powered by the 6-cylinder boxer engine. That will give you some steer as to my soft spots.”

Smale offered these hard fast facts to illustrate Porsche’s prowess at Le Mans vs. its corporate rivals:

_ Porsche has made 70 successive starts (since 1951); Ferrari has 59 starts (since 1949); Aston Martin has 44 starts (since 1928).

_ Porsche has the most consecutive wins, seven between 1981-1987; Ferrari has six wins between 1960-1965; Audi has five wins between 2004-2008; Ford has four wins between 1966-1969.

_ Porsche owns the highest number of outright victories with 19; Audi has 13 wins, Ferrari has nine and Jaguar has seven.

The author of 17 books, Smale is a familiar figure at the Porsche Archive in Stuttgart. “I usually bank on about a year for a book,” Smale said. “But Porsche at Le Man:70 Years probably took me around nine-10 months because it was an update of a previously published book. Having said that, I went over all the details from cover to cover in this book, edited some parts and then added an extra 10 years bringing it up to date from 2011 to 2021. The previous edition published in 2012, Porsche 60 Years at Le Mans, was short-listed as a finalist for the British Motorsport Book awards in 2012.

“The folk at the Porsche Archive in Stuttgart have been extremely helpful over the 17 years I have been working with them. This is my ninth book on Porsche, and I have used the Porsche Archive for hundreds of features on Porsches over the years. So my working relationship with them is something that I value very highly.”

Smale’s catalog also includes a topic dear to all British car-guys: Jaguar E-Type: Portrait of a Design Icon, for which he received the Laurin and Klement “Design Writer of the Year” award in 2007.

Smale logged the first of his 13 visits to Le Mans in ‘07, missed the events in 2008 and 2009 but is working on a streak of 12 consecutive races that began in 2010. Glen’s love affair with Le Mans is similar to this writer’s fascination with the history and traditions of American open-wheel racing synonymous with the Indianapolis 500 and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Ever since I was a very young lad, Le Mans has been my favourite race; it’s never really been Formula 1, rallying or bikes, it was always endurance racing,” Smale said. “I would wait for each issue of Motorsport to come out, and having been born in South Africa, that was really the only coverage we got of that race. I moved to the UK in ’99 with my family and said to my wife (Elke) that I absolutely have to attend the Le Mans 24 _ but only as a working journalist.

“This I did in ’07 as a photographer, which meant I had access to all areas around the track, as well as the pit lane and paddock. At first it was overwhelming because I had never attended anything on the scale of Le Mans before, but it didn’t take long for the bug to bite.”

Once bitten, being on-site and within earshot of the track took precedence over “civilised” daily amenities. “I have done Le Mans in just about every different way that you can imagine,” Smale said. “I have slept in my car for a week _ I had a nice SUV so I could flatten the back and stretch out _ and used the showers in the paddock. That is really like getting in there and really feeling part of the whole experience.

“I also stayed a distance from the track one year and hated that. Then from about 2012 for about five years, my wife attended with me as a working journalist and we camped with all-and-sundry. That was an experience because we would leave the campsite at 7:30 or 8 in the morning when everybody is still snoring and half-hanging out of their tents after a night of partying, only returning at around midnight to 2 the next morning and trying to get some sleep while everybody else was still revelling. It was an experience, and I think we only did that twice or three times.

“Nowadays I do the race on my own and stay in AirBnB accommodation; it’s a bit more civilised. Whatever the accommodation arrangements have been I have always stayed at the Circuit on Saturday right through to the end of the race on Sunday. I think only once or twice have I stayed up around the clock, making Saturday a 40-hour day. My wife stayed up with me! I am now 64-years-old, so I no longer try to be too heroic.”

Smale has interacted with all manner of Porschephiles and Ferrari’s famed tifosi over the years, and the languages aren’t the only differences.

“I think there is a different attitude amongst most of the Porschephiles because they are there due to their favourite car usually being at the front of the pack,” Smale said. “Porsche is the only manufacturer to have an unbroken run at Le Mans from 1951 to 2021 (70 years), and that places Porsche and their followers in a slightly different league.

“BMW races for a few years and then they disappear. Ferrari followers are not the same as the Porschephiles, because if a Ferrari won’t start they are more likely to call in the local services to have them air-lifted back home. In my view, Porschephiles are not adverse to opening the bonnet of their car and getting their hands dirty, or helping out a fellow club member with a car problem. So, yes, I think there is a strong sense of pride amongst its members; they really go all-out to set up camp properly and they know how to celebrate!”

In addition to documenting the cars, Smale has included anecdotes from a number of motor racing greats who have driven for Porsche at Le Mans. That list of racing royalty includes Derek Bell, Jacky Ickx, Jo Siffert, Jochen Rindt, Vic Elford, Herbert Muller, Helio Castroneves and Americans Mark Donohue, Mario Andretti and Hurley Haywood.

Smale’s personal street car history includes ownership of two Jaguars in South Africa during his university years _ a 1965 3.8 S-type and a 1968 420. “Only one worked and I did a lot of walking,” Smale joked. “Later I owned an early XJ6, a 1975 Alfa Giulia 1600 and a 1969 BMW 2.0 CS. None of these were really great cars that I was able to enjoy for an extended period because they were needed as everyday transport at various times, and were not the best runners.

“Since moving to the UK in ’99 there has been neither the finance nor the space to garage a classic car. I would really like to have an early 911 (pre-1971) or a ’73 Carrera RS, or at the other end of the scale a 993 Carrera would be just great.

“There is no opposition from my wife in this respect. In fact, she would have a Porsche tomorrow, we just need sufficient funds. My wife, who is German, translated a Porsche book from German into English for Haynes Publishing in 2012 and just being that close to Porsche’s history convinced her of the quality of these great cars. So, we’re still working on getting our first Porsche…maybe one day!”

Porsche at Le Mans: 70 Years

Author: Glen Smale. Photographs courtesy Corporate Archives Porsche AG

Format: Hardcover, 9½ by 11 ¼, 320 pages/750 color photos with black-and-white

ISBN: 978-0-7603-6905-0/Visit QuartoKnows.com

Published: November 23, 2021 by Motorbooks, an imprint of The Quarto Group, 100 Cummings Center, Suite 265-D, Beverly, Mass. 01915

Price: $75.00 USA; $99.00 Canada

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The daunting task of documenting 70 years of Ferrari’s Formula 1 cars is Stuart Codling’s contribution to the tifosi who consider Maranello, Italy, the crux of the motorsport universe.

Celebrating seven decades of F1 excellence, Ferrari Formula 1 Car by Car lists all of the Scuderia’s four-wheel creations in chronological order along with an overview of each car’s significant features, technical specifications and competition record. Historic and contemporary images accompany each iteration of the Cavallino Rampante _ Enzo Anselmo Ferrari’s famed Prancing Horse.

The great Michael Schumacher in his F1 Ferrari.

Published in March 2021 to coincide with the 70th anniversary of F1 and Ferrari’s participation in grand prix racing, the book concludes with a full competition record for each car.

Ferrari and F1 are synonymous, as the Italian marque has contested every F1 season since the series’ debut in 1950. From its first dedicated racer, the 126, through the transition to rear-engine cars to today’s technological hybrid powerhouses, Ferrari has competed wide-flat-open. Scuderia Ferrari rightly touts its 16 Constructor titles, the legacy forged by a list of alpha male drivers including Michael Schumacher, Sebastien Vettel, Gilles Villeneuve, Phil Hill, Niki Lauda, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso. 

Codling notes in the book’s Introduction that the Ferrari company as we know it was founded in March 1947. Two months later, Franco Cortese won the Rome Grand Prix _ 40 laps around the historic Terme di Caracalla site _ in a Ferrari 125 S Roadster. In supercharged form, that car’s engine would power Ferrari’s return to Grand Prix racing and propel it into the FIA’s World Championship we enjoy today.

Codling is a veteran motorsport journalist and broadcaster who covered sports car racing in the United States before joining F1 Racing, the world’s biggest-selling magazine on the sport, in 2001. He has appeared as an F1 expert on TV and radio, hosted for Renault F1 and regularly contributes to F1 Racing, Autosport, Autocar and the Red Bulletin.

Codling is the author of several Motorbooks titles, including Real Racers: Formula 1 Racing in the 1950s and 1960s; Art of the Formula 1 Race Car; Art of the Classic Sports Car and The Life Monaco. Codling lives in Farnham, Surrey, England.

Ferrari Formula 1 Car By Car: Every Race Car Since 1950

Author: Stuart Codling

Format: Hardcover, 12 1/4 by 10, 224 pages/200 primarily color photos with black-and-white

ISBN: 978-0-7603-6777-3/Visit QuartoKnows.com

Published: March 23, 2021 by Motorbooks, an imprint of The Quarto Group, 100 Cummings Center, Suite 265-D, Beverly, Mass. 01915

Price: $60.00 USA; $80.00 Canada

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He remains the embodiment of California cool, and as of Oct. 8, 2021, a genuine Texas Motorplex Legend. Drag racing icon Don “The Snake” Prudhomme was accorded that honor during opening ceremonies of the 36th annual Texas NHRA FallNationals in Ennis.

“I’m 80-years-old now, do you believe that?” Prudhomme joked during a one-on-one interview with RacinToday.com. “It’s like coming home, you know? This track’s done a lot for me _ I’m a California boy but I love coming to Texas. The Texas Motorplex is the last track I won a race at as a driver in 1994. Kind of cool to come back and see how the place has grown. Last time I was here was as a car-owner in 2009…12 years ago!”

A winner at The Plex in both Funny Car and Top Fuel, Prudhomme and award-winning photographer Richard Shute were recognized as Texas Motorplex Legends on that fall Friday evening at the facility built by former Funny Car driver and Hall of Famer Billy Meyer.

Prudhomme won the FallNats three times _ a Funny Car title in 1989, Top Fuel in 1991 and that final professional Top Fuel win in 1994. Competing in the opposite lane in that matchup was fellow-Californian Cory McClenathan _ fittingly, the first driver honored as a Motorplex Legend in 2019. Seven-time Top Fuel world champ Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher received the honor in 2020.

Prudhomme’s exploits at The Plex are among a lifetime of topics covered in a book released _ and largely overlooked _ during the COVID-19 affected 2020 season. Written with West Coast auto enthusiast Elana Scherr, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme: My Life Beyond the 1320 details his journey from high school dropout painting cars to respected, multi-time NHRA champion and successful businessman.

As a car-obsessed teen-ager in Rome, N.Y, Prudhomme, tuner Roland Leong and “The Hawaiian” dragster emerged as the epitomes of the sport’s nomadic lifestyle in magazines and whenever ABC’s Wide World of Sports squeezed in an NHRA segment. Home to Griffiss Air Force Base and its Strategic Air Command B-52 bomber wing during the height of the Cold War, Rome was a blue-collar milltown and the epitome of lake effect snow. California dreaming on such a winter’s day? You bet!

Prudhomme concluded his 47th year in drag racing in 2009, his 15th season as an owner after logging 32 seasons behind the wheel as one of the sport’s elite drivers. His 49 NHRA career victories saw Prudhomme reach the final of a national event 68 times, posting a remarkable 35 wins in 45 Funny Car finals and 14 wins in 23 Top Fuel finals.

Prudhomme was at his peak wheeling the Army-sponsored Funny Car beginning in the mid-1970s. “We won the championship in 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979,” Prudhomme recalled. “The Army car, a Plymouth Arrow, that was probably my best car. They (Funny Cars) were harder to drive (than a Top Fuel car) but more fun because it’s a short-wheelbase car and you’re sitting right behind the engine and with the closed aerodynamic body on the car, it was just more fun to drive.”

Prudhomme opens up about his private life in text provided by Scherr, a licensed NHRA Sportsman racer whose writing credits include Roadkill magazine, Hot Rod, Car and Driver, Road & Track, Automobile and Sports Car Market.

Fans of a certain age will recall that the “1320” referenced in the book’s title equals a quarter-mile, the former standard for competition in Top Fuel and Funny Car since reduced to the current 1000-feet. Those fans also will enjoy the back story to Mattel’s entrance into sanctioned drag racing via Tom McEwen’s business contacts and vision _ and launch of “The Snake and The Mongoose” toy cars.

In Chapter 4, “The 1970s,” Prudhomme recounts on Page 88: “My immediate thought was, ‘What would Mattel want with a couple of drag racers?’ Mattel was Barbie dolls, and I didn’t think I needed another sponsor. I was doing fairly well, as I was getting some good money from Wynn’s and getting a little more from Plymouth. McEwen didn’t need me to get it. He could see the future.”

That deal immortalized the rivalry between Prudhomme and McEwen while raising the professionalism of the entire sport.

“I’m not saying it changed kids’ lives _ but kinda, you know?” Prudhomme told RacinToday.com. “When they got their Hot Wheels cars they said, ‘Gee, let’s go out to the drag strip.’ I’m still getting people come up to me and saying, ‘Man, I had your Hot Wheels car or I still have ‘em.’ It’s really cool, you know? I’m really pleased.”

Fortunately, a number of Prudhomme’s former hot rods survive in museums and private collections around the country. “Rick Hendrick of NASCAR, he’s got a bunch of my cars now,” Prudhomme said. “You look back at what you used to do and it brings back great memories. I wish I was still doing it, you know, but time ran out.”

In addition to lessons learned as a driver/team-owner/businessman, Prudhomme candidly addresses the culture and inheritance of his African-American roots as well as the importance of his family life with wife, Lynn, and daughter Donna.

Prudhomme and Lynn are enjoying an idyllic retirement on the West Coast. “I live in San Diego in an area called Rancho Santa Fe,” Prudhomme said. “About five miles from the ocean and it’s the most beautiful climate in the world and I just gotta stay there. That’s home for me.”

Prudhomme’s book is available at snakeracinggear.com. “If somebody wants a book, they can order a book, I’ll sign it for ‘em and send it off,” Prudhomme said.

Don Prudhomme: My Life Beyond the 1320

Author: Elana Scherr

Format: Hardcover, 8.5 by 11, 192 pages/color and black-and-white photos

ISBN: 978-1-61325-518-6/Item No. CT662/Visit CarTechBooks.com

Published: October 15, 2020 by CarTech, Inc., 838 Lake Street South, Forest Lake, Minn. 55025

Price: $49.00 USA

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients has included Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).

 

 

 

 

 

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, December 22 2021
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