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Tales from the Endless Search for Speed

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Published on Fri, Jun 20, 2014

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

BOOK REVIEW MAKING IT FASTER Tales From the Endless Search for Speed By Dan Binks and Norm DeWitt Forward by Tommy Kendall Review by Doug Stokes
Making it Faster: Tales from the Endless Search for Speed

How to start this review. Okay, how about this: This is one of the most densely-packed, frenetically-paced books of technical tidbits, first-person stories (many until this book… untold), rumors, examples, samples, diagrams, theories, scenes, secrets, scenarios, dreams, drama, and odd-ball racing vignettes that I’ve ever read. …No, strike the words “one of”. Not-so-subtly-subtitled: “Tales from the endless search for speed”, the dual authors of this hefty volume are just unrelenting in piling on layer after layer after layer of information about the people and the pieces of the world automobile (and motorcycle) racing. Technical history on the half-shell, this book jumps “on the cam” from page one and rides the rev-limiter until the very last page—and there are a lot of pages! After an opening chapter that tells the inspiring story of super-successful top racing mechanic/engineer, Dan Binks, this 546-page(!) book wastes very few pages on illustrations, and dives headlong into a series of chapters that discuss every aspect of racing and that are simply rife with instant-occurring first-person quotes from just about every top player in the biz, all intertwined in page after page of intense, technical copy that goes from subject to subject and hears from icon after icon with nary a breath taken in between. Here is a book that can be read straight through (I really did try, honest) but that works every bit as well as a book that one can return to for a couple of pages at a time and perhaps read a story that might well have never been told in public except for this book. However, if ever a book cried out for an index—this is the book. That mission-critical list of names, places, events, etc. would add at least 20 pages, but it would be very well worth it (a hint no so subtly directed toward Messers Binks and DeWitt hopefully for their second edition). And, on the subject of subtlety … there’s precious little lavished on these pages. But that’s the fun of this book.* *The way this book works is that authors start talking about a subject by chapter (aerodynamics, engines, tires, whatever). And each of the chapters starts at the beginning of that particular subject and travels through history and the tech to the present day. What happens, if one reads more than a couple of chapters at a time, is that the reader is sort of jerked back and forth in time as each chapter reviews its subject from its very beginnings to the present day. With that blueprint in mind, do expect to hear from Dan Binks in each of the chapters and on each of the subjects (he has hooked horns with all of them at least once during his years behind the wrenches). Once pass Binks’ career story (don’t fear, we’ll hear from him many more times), author DeWitt steams though ten (count ‘em, ten) technical chapters: Chassis, Engine and Drivetrain, Powerplant Innovation, Tires and Brakes, Suspension, Weight, Polar Movement, and CG, Aerodynamics, Electronics, Details and Setup, Safety, and The Future. A whole lot of scenery gets chewed up along the way here and the shifts between automotive racing theory and practice and motorcycle high performance dynamics are legion and neck-snapping. Each chapter has its own set of protagonists who have all been there and got three or four T-shirts for their efforts (in other words pretty much all the key players). The authors start a subject and suddenly, a voice cuts in, commenting on the how it was and what it meant in the day (did I mention I’d really appreciate an index?). By the way, I’d really like a talking book version of this publication with the actual voices of the people who are quoted herein. Here’s a few condensed versions of the hundreds of stories in the book: Trevor Harris talks about the Gurney Pepsi Challenger and a severe understeer problem while testing at Riverside. He gets the biggest rear anti-roll bar in the truck, machines the peepee out the front one and, when that fails to cure the push, he dumps in ton and half of front toe-in (enough to make the sleek Eagle look positively knock-kneed). The trick works, and the car goes fast. Binks hooked up a third link rear suspension in Tommy Kendall’s 1989 Trans Am Beretta. Of course they did not want anyone to know about the trick control arm. So what did they do to hide the surreptitious system? A Igloo cooler on the floor of the rear seat area was hooked up to look as though it kept the driver temp down, but it was hollowed-out and simply served as cover up, cool camouflage for the unseen third link. The oft-told story of the “Gurney Flap” is reiterated in detail (and with direct quotes from aerodynamicist, Bob Liebeck). What I didn’t know about the little metal strip was that Liebeck, an aerodynamicist who worked for McDonald-Douglas, checked the idea out in the Mc-Doug wind tunnel and Gurney’s aero fix ended up as OEM empennage on the MD-11 and the 747(!).


And speaking of “aero”, I never knew that Bobby Unser actually had a small-scale wind tunnel in his Albuquerque shop. Not only did Unser have one, he actually designed and tested underbody shapes for his rides when he was racing for Dan Gurney’s All-American Races. He’d hit upon something, draw it up and sent it to Derrick Walker and they’d make up a full-size part for Unser to try at the next test session. It was the early days, before the days of the often-deadly sliding skirts and down force that could glue Indy cars to the ceiling, but Unser got it right as often as the engineers did in those days, and their butts were on the line at two-bills heading into T1 a the Speedway! Reading about how Tommy Kendall directed his own extrication from the Chevy Intrepid after his bone-crushing incident at Watkins Glen is somehow more “otherworldly” than gristly. Kendall calmly directs the crash crew precisely where to place the jaws of life (right between his crushed leg and the tube that’s trapping it!). Binks was the crew chief on that car and he seemed to be in greater pain that Kendall (who had a pair of shattered legs). There are at least 200 such stories in this one (I didn’t count ’em, but I’ll buy you a beer if there are less)—each working to illustrate the theme of the particular chapter. MID-REVIEW REALIZATION: This book is a compendium of the stories that float at the track or back at the motel when a race day is rained out. AND …. BACK TO THE REVIEW: We counted (and, at that, likely missed a few) over 70 stalwarts of speed who are directly-quoted, integral parts of racing’s incredibly convoluted quest for lower lap times in these pages in the book. If one is to be known by the company that one keeps, the two guys with their names on cover are in very good company here. Just for the record, here’s a quick list of the people who chime in on the above listed chapter and subjects: Tony Adamowicz, Bill Akin, Jean Alesi, Chris Amon, Mario Andretti, Jack Baldwin, Rubens Barrichello, Ammar Bazzaz, Greg Biffle, Phil Binks, Marge Binks, Bob Bondurant, Sebastion Bourdais, Ben Bowlby, Geoff Brabham, Jerry Burgess, Paul Butler, Nobby Clark, Brian Clauson, Troy Corser, Ray Crepeau, Michael Czysz, Gian Paolo Dallara, Donald Davidson, Andrew Davidson, Don Devendorf, Scott Dickson, Rob Dyson, Vic Elford, A.J. Foyt, Marino Franchitti, Wayne Gardner, Don Garlits, Paul Gentilozzi, Tony George, Jerry Grant, Dan Gurney, Trevor Harris, Nicky Hayden, Andrew Heard, Wolf Henzler, Phil Hill, Michael Johnson, Parnelli Jones, Tony Kanaan, Tommy Kendall, Gordon Kimball, Charlie Kimball, Mert Lawill, Joe Leonard, Marc Lieb, Bob Liebeck, Al Luddington, Jan Magnussen, Simon Marshall, Rick Mayer, Allan McNish, Rick Mears, Matt Mladin, John Morton, Stirling Moss, Martin Muehlimeier, Hisataka Murata, David Murray, Jackie Oliver, Simon Pagenaud, Mauro Piccoli, Emmanuele Piro, Phil Reilly, Kenny Roberts, Jack Roush, Takuma Sato, Jackie Stewart, Ron Tauranac, Bobby Unser, Derrick, Walker, Jeff Ward, Justin Wilson (I’m sure that I’ve missed at least half a dozen names here.) Here’s the real charm of this jam-packed book of fun facts about racing tech: Every time I picked up the book, I thought of a different friend who I’d like to get a copy of the book for thinking: “So-and-so should see THIS!”, “whoa…I’ve gotta show Joe this stuff about Whosis”, “man, I’ll be that (insert name of old friend here) would get a kick out of this”, and so on. No, not for everyone, and not the easiest of reads, but if you’re at all interested in the technology of motorsports and its ever-changing nature, these 546 pages are a great place to get a fix that’s wide-ranging, very involving, and very personal. Thanks Dan, thanks Norm. See you at the races! -DS MAKING IT FASTER Tales From the Endless Search for Speed Publisher: Norm DeWitt Over 150 b/w photos 546 pages $24.95 CreateSpace, an Amazon company 4900 LaCross Road North Charleston, SC 29406 ISBN 987-0-9911755-0-5 To order this book on, click here.

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