- Iron Mac: The Legend of Roughhouse Cyclist Reggie McNamara by Andrew M. Homan
In Iron Mac, Andrew M. Homan successfully describes the life of one of America's forgotten sporting stars, Reggie McNamara. Australian by birth, McNamara immigrated in 1913 to the United States in search of track-cycling glory and income. He was one of several Australian-born riders to make the journey to North America during the first two decades to pursue racing—others included Cecil Walker and Alf Goullet. Before examining the life of McNamara, Homan discussed the life of Bobby Walthour, a turn-of-the-century American track-bicycle racer in his first book, Life in the Slipstream: The Legend of Bobby Walthour Sr. (2011). While Walthour was a bright star, McNamara was a proverbial Cal Ripkin of his day and sport: he trudged through decades of crashes and challenges to be the racer of his generation most known for his longevity. McNamara, to be sure, also won races, but he raced into his fifties. Both Walthour and McNamara were stars in Madison Square Garden's most famous bicycling race: the annual or biannual Six Day race, so named because riders in pairs lived close to the track and raced in pairs for six days or, usually, 144 hours. North America played host to some of the most famous races in the world, especially the Garden Six Day race. The indoor winter races were tremendously popular, loud, and, for the riders, dangerous and potentially profitable. Despite the risks of racing on a track bike with no brakes and tight 250–300+ meter tracks at speeds of up to fifty miles per hour, riders readily competed for the multithousand-dollar prize purses and endorsement contracts. The life could be very profitable: Homan notes that McNamara was able to make over $75,000 in 1926 (roughly equivalent to over $900,000 of buying power today) (157). As Homan also mentions, Six Day racers were some of the highest paid professional athletes of the day (75, 157). [End Page 108]
Homan's book is more than a biography; it is truly a vision into a lost world of big-time professional North American bicycle racing. His lens to this lost world is "Iron Man" Reggie McNamara. (McNamara had this name many decades before a Navy commander, John Collins, thought up the famous triathlon of the same name in Hawaii). In fifteen mostly chronological chapters, Homan follows McNamara and the tremendously popular Six Day races of the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s. McNamara made his home in Newark, New Jersey, but competed throughout Europe and North America on a regular basis. He participated in many of the races and won several in a career spanning three decades. McNamara, given his nickname, was famously tough: he came back from concussions; fractured skulls, arms, and legs; giant splinters; and operations. Homan also shows that, besides the crashes, McNamara had challenges with his home life. He became estranged from his wife and was accused of domestic abuse. He also had significant challenges with alcoholism later in his career and in the immediate years after his retirement. One of the most interesting narratives that Homan presents is of McNamara being an early and successful user of Alcoholics Anonymous and literally riding a bicycle on stationary rollers in front of an AA meeting in the 1940s in a Newark auditorium (185).
Homan's greatest strength in his second work is the painstaking research he completed in capturing and presenting a detailed portrait of McNamara's life. This was a rider who passed away in 1971, a star in a sport of Six Day racing, which largely went extinct after the 1930s. To write this book, Homan completed interviews with many different families and traveled widely to access newspapers around the country such as the Newark Evening News, as well as Chicago and New York–based papers. Homan is successful in showing the highs and the lows of McNamara. Homan's book is mainly...