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  • Auto Racing in the Shadow of the Great War: Streamlined Specials and a New Generation of Drivers on American Speedways, 1915–1922 by Robert Dick
  • Suzanne Wise
Dick, Robert. Auto Racing in the Shadow of the Great War: Streamlined Specials and a New Generation of Drivers on American Speedways, 1915–1922. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2019. Pp. v+ 440. Notes, bibliography, illustrations, appendices of biographical and technical data, and index. $49.96, pb. $85.00, eb.

In the Shadow of the Great War is author Robert Dick's latest contribution to the history of racing in the early years of the twentieth century, joining Mercedes and Auto Racing in the Belle Epoque, 1895–1915 (2005) and Auto Racing Comes of Age: A Transatlantic View of the Cars, Drivers and Speedways, 1900–1925 (2013), which focused primarily on racing in Europe. This volume examines automobile racing in America. Dick, a historian of automotive engineering, has produced a detailed account of the history and technological advances in racing during these years, laced with nuggets about the lives of the drivers and mechanics who raced the open-cockpit cars. Dick follows the careers of emerging stars like Barney Oldfield, Ralph DePalma, Dario Resta, Louis Chevrolet, and Eddie Rickenbacker.

Auto racing was not widely covered by the press in these early years. Dick consulted reports from motorsport magazines in the United States and Europe, as well as contemporary accounts from American newspapers. He notes that details vary widely among the sources and that he used the most probable and detailed information. [End Page 168]

The book is arranged chronologically, from spring 1915 through 1922. There are very comprehensive descriptions of races and the technical specifications of the cars entered. Most race accounts are accompanied by a chart of the cars, their number, make, and driver. The text is packed with information on engine setups and the minutiae of the race and is liberally spiced with vintage photos of track action and drivers attired in coats and ties, with their riding mechanics alongside.

Most major auto-racing events at the turn of the century were point-to-point road racing, such as the Vanderbilt Cup on Long Island. Early closed-course auto racing tended to use fairground horse-racing tracks. Gradually, venues constructed solely for auto racing begin to appear. Races were sanctioned by the American Automobile Association (AAA) and were held at tracks across the United States.

World War I shut down racing in Europe, so European racing teams came to America to compete. Starting grids included Peugeots, Mercedes, Delages, Ballots, and Stutzes, in addition to American-made cars. The typical American race car was a modified version of the stock showroom model. To be competitive with the European invaders, which were often built specifically for racing, the American race cars had to be upgraded to streamlined machines with powerful engines and many new features. It was an era of engineering advances.

By 1917, the war was having an impact on racing in the United States. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway shut down racing, and the Hudson Motor Car Company announced that it would not field race cars for the duration of the war. Fiat moved its headquarters from Turin, Italy, to Poughkeepsie, New York. In November 1917, the Contest Board of the AAA announced a cessation of sanctioned motor-car racing in the United States, citing the need for drivers and mechanics in France to aid the war effort. In September 1918, the Fuel Administration requested that all racing be suspended to support the war effort. However, the stoppage was a brief one, as the signing of the armistice in November ended the war.

Racing quickly returned to prewar norms. The usual venues of American racing began to change. Sheepshead Bay, a board track in need of expensive repairs, was demolished following its last race in the fall of 1919, and the land was converted to a housing development. Ascot Park in Los Angeles met a similar fate, closing to make room for houses built by the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company for its workers. However, a new board track in Beverly Hills was soon built to fill the void. American racing was healthy...


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