MYSTERIES OF RACING HISTORY REIMAGINED
Sandro Martini’s TRACKS – Racing the Sun
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Mon, Dec 14, 2015
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
TRACKS - Racing the Sun By Sandro Martini Published in the UK by Aurora Metro Books ISBN # 978-1-906582-43-2 Reviewed by Hector Cademartori Preface: This well-written book covers the pre-WW2 era of automobile Grand Prix racing, mainly in the European theatre, dealing with names, marques and places that are becoming more and more distant in our memory. It’s the natural way history works. New events pile up in front of the old ones and, slowly, but steadily, cover them with the dust of time. As an example, the late sixties-early seventies would be the beginning of the “era” for a young fan that was born in the early fifties. They would certainly be familiar with names and events that happened just before his “era” and, while following drivers such as Brabham, Amon, Gurney, Stewart, Rodriguez or Siffert, and marques such as Lotus, BRM, Tyrrell or Matra, and hearing names from the previous era such as Fangio, Salvadori, Ascari, Trintignant, Villoresi, Gonzalez, or Hawthorn: along marques like Mercedes, Vanwall, Maserati or Lancia. Our young enthusiast may have also heard about the previous generation: Nuvolari, Caracciola, Campari, Borzacchini, Rosemeyer, Varsi and Chiron, but these are ancient names for those following motorsports in our first part of the 21st century when a Mercedes Benz W125 or an Auto Union C Type rarely leave their climate-controlled museums to drive around the Earl of March’s backyard or at selected historic racing events. … And this is where Sandro Martini’s story heroically breathes life into those distant pre-WW2 scenarios of the ‘30s and ‘40s … not only dealing with motor racing, but with the swirl of politics that would all but envelop them. The premise is simple: In 1968 an American journalist Joe Deutsch, looking for answers about the early days of Grand Prix racing, meets an Italian colleague, named Johnny Finestrini ( a thinly fictionalized character based on the famous motor journalist Giovanni Canestrini), who covered international motor racing for the Gazzetta newspaper. Finestrini not only reported about the races, but was part of that inner circle and had intimate contact with the players thus becoming an invaluable source of information from an era that has very few eye witnesses still alive. This book is the result of that interview and creates situations, conversations and dialogue that are, in truth, not factual, but that are fully believable within the factual historical backdrop that this author presents. In other words, there’s no record of those conversations and situations, but Martini “recreates” them using the results of an incredible amount of research and investigations (Martini refers to this in the Afterword) the same way that artist Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze created a painting of Washington crossing the Delaware during the American Revolutionary War 100 years after the fact. The author creates a sense of reality through a strong historical support, something like Grand Prix the movie meets The DaVinci Code meets a Ken Burns documentary. With as many characters and places racing by in this book is, by no means, what one would refer to as “light reading” amount of characters and places. After a while, you almost need a reference chart to follow who raced with whom and who was the husband/lover/wife/girlfriend of who besides all the peripheral names and places, plus the story jumps from the Deutsch/Finestrini dialogue to a conversation between the real characters. Confusing? At times yes, but very interesting and educational at the same time recreating the years of the Hitler-Mussolini alliance in the political arena and the lives and times of the Italian and German drivers and teams which dominated a world that was marching (pun intended) towards total war. The book is self described as a novel; however, I tend to disagree. I would consider it a novel if it was a fictional story and fictional characters against a historically accurate background, but TRACKS-Racing the Sun is composed by real characters against a real backdrop and everything’s based on facts. The reconstruction of history is so accurate that I have no reason to believe that those dialogues and situations were far from the truth. Again, the painting of George Washington… The research work that went into this book is worth mentioning. Some of the facts and descriptions were so unbelievable, so difficult to accept at face value that I couldn’t resist the temptation of checking them out. And I did. And they were right. Example #1: In 1946 the story follows Achille Varsi and Rudi Caracciola to Indianapolis and, while staying in New York before the race, Caracciola’s girlfriend, Baby Hoffman mentions that Tony Hulman’s grandfather was from Lingen, the same town as Berndt Rosemeyer. It is true. Example #2: In 1937, on his way to America to race, Nuvolari travels in the luxury ocean liner SS Normandie and describes a dialogue with its captain; Rene Pugnet.I confirmed that he was, indeed, the Captain of the SS Normandie. Lingen? Rene Pugnet? I call this real research, my friends! Martini’s work is for the hard core racing fan. Exciting descriptions of the races takes you back eighty years to the desert of Libya for the Tripoli Grand Prix, to AVUS and Montecarlo, the Nurburgring, Monza and long gone circuits such as Pescara, San Remo and the Targa Florio to feel the roar of the mighty Mercedes and the 16-cylinders of the Auto Unions. Martini also captures the ever present atmosphere of a component of racing that is still with us: death. He describes the tragic accidents of Campari, Borzacchini and Count Czaykowski at Monza in ’33, Bernd Rosemeyer’s trying to break Caracciola’s speed record in 1938, von Delius at the Nurburgring and others, but what best describes the situation at that time, and probably still today, is the dialogue between Elly Rosemeyer and Carolina Nuvolari about Ernst von Delius, who was Rosemeyer’s uncle: Carolina sips her tea. ‘Ernst died racing,’ she says. ‘It’s all men like this can ask for.’ ‘Is that what Tazio told Berndt?’ ‘No, he would have told Berndt that, if a driver needs a friend, he ought to get a pet. Like Caracciola’s monkey.’ Elly smiles. ’And I always thought Italians were romantics.’ ‘Death is part of us, Elly.’ Carolina stares into the distance, leaving the rest unsaid. Personally, the Varsi story and his Argentine connection brought back memories. I was a rookie journalist for CORSA Magazine in Buenos Aires in the early seventies and remember the senior editors interviewing Juan Manuel Fangio, Froilan Gonzalez and another one of our racing heroes, Oscar Galvez, talking about how much Varsi helped the contingent that went for the first time to Europe in the late forties. They established their headquarters in Galliate, his hometown, and, in fact, the team was named “Scuderia Acchille Varsi”. I also remember them talking about Varsi’s drug addiction that he had wrestled with for so long. Sandro Martini’ TRACKS-Racing the Sun will not disappoint the true enthusiast with this recreation of the Belle Époque of Racing. Just relax, stay in the slipstream of this swirling novreal and maybe keep pen and a piece of paper handy to keep score of the characters. -HC About the author: Hector Cademartori is a highly-respected motor sports artist who emigrated from Argentina some 30 years ago and resides in La Verne, California. He's also a journalist, racecar driver and tango dancer, although not necessarily in this order. He may be contacted at [email protected].