Auto racing fans love their racing, and they not only love watching the races but they love reading about the racers, which creates a market for all sorts of books, from serious biographies and thoroughly researched histories of bygone eras and racing rivalries to lushly photo-based coffee table tomes and books of tales and trivia written in chapters short enough they can be read during a commercial break or bathroom visit.
Arriving for review with a few hours of each other was this published pair of tales and trivia.
Mike Hembree's book is for stock car racing fans, and I'm guessing even the most knowledgeable among them will learn new tidbits of trivia and perhaps even plot a homage to a previously unknown shine of the sport's early years.
For example, did you know that ABC televised a NASCAR race -- green flag-to-checker -- in 1971, eight years before the acclaimed CBS live coverage of the Daytona 500? Or that car owner and racer Ed Negre made more money from the die-cast model of one of his cars than he did in his entire racing career? Or that the first restrictor-plate race wasn't run at Daytona or Talladega but at Michigan? Or that the seven championships won by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. is not the NASCAR record? Do you know when what now is known as the Sprint Cup racer competed for the last time on a dirt track? Do you know Sara Christian's role in NASCAR history? Can you identify the race track that was so close to a cemetery they regularly red-flagged the cars for 45 minutes in respect during gravesite funerals?
You'll know all of the above, and much more after reading this book by Hembree, who has covered NASCAR for three decades, most recently as NASCAR editor for Speed.com.
Based on its title, Tales from the Indianapolis 500: A Collection of the Greatest Indy 500 Stories Ever Told, you might expect similar significance from Jack Arute's book. Arute is a long-time motorsports reporter for ABC/ESPN and NBC, though he actually got his start with NASCAR's MRN radio system. (The book's cover says it was written by Arute "with Jenna Fryer, an Associated Press reporter, yet we never find evidence within the book of Fryer's contribution.)
But Arute's "collection of the greatest Indy 500 stories ever told" doesn't have Hembree's historical sweep. In Arute's book, the history of the Indy 500 begins in 1969, not 1911. In 1969, Arute was an 18-year-old high school senior whose father took him to Indy as a graduation present.
Many of Arute's tales are as much about him as they are about Indy, or at least about A.J. Foyt, Arute's favorite Indy driver.
It's tempting to say the subtitle of the book should be "A Collection of Indy 500 Stories Jack Arute Happened to Cover During His Broadcasting Career," but that's a little too harsh, because Arute does take us into places in Gasoline Alley that fans cannot access.
And he does share some interesting tales, such as a story about the Al Unser Sr. crashed because his pit crew kept insisting he radio in number readouts from the gauges in his car.
"I looked down while tooling down the backstretch to try to read the water temperature gauge," Unser told Arute, "and bam, I'm in the wall!"
Arute also shares a heart-warming story about the Alley Cats, a group of fans who stand and cheer every driver that travels between the garages and the pits, and near the end of the book brings a smile to old-timers' faces with a nostalgic piece about the old Gasoline Allen garages with their green-and-white barn doors.