Tracks: Racing the Sun - Book Review By Steve Purdy
Tracks: Racing the Sun
A Novel by Sandro Martini
Aurora Metro Books – UK
Reviewed By Steve Purdy
The Auto Channel
Historical fiction is great fun because it can flesh out and add vivid color to subjects already partially familiar, in this case the early days of motor racing in Europe. Tracks is a great read for those who have some familiarity with the cars, the racing venues and the heroic men who drove balls-to-the-wall in search of fame, fortune and respect. I predict it will also be a great read for many others who would like to immerse themselves in the decade before WWII soaking up the politics, economic strife and cultural ambiance of this Euro-centric sport that took the lives of many great men.
Can we call men like Tazio Nuvolari, Achille Varzi, Rudi Caracciola and Bernd Rosemeyer heroes because they had the courage to drive crude (by modern standards) race cars blindingly fast while indulging their lust for adrenalin? The author notes that they “risked their lives for money and glory in a sport that had a mortality rate higher than WWI flying aces.” But, it was not just personal glory they were after. They often carried the banner of nationalism representing their respective countries and governments, particularly as the 1930s saw serious political rivalries and alliances in Europe.
Remarkable drama in the personal lives of the key players in this story include morphine addiction, broken romance, political intrigue, bitter on- and off-track rivalries, and clashes of big egos among the racers and those around them. Motor racing was a huge spectator sport in the 1930s and people identified with their own flawed and larger-than-life heroes. The two Italians and two Germans listed above are the key racing figures in this story but Tracks also explores the who built the cars (Enzo Ferrari, for example) a doctor who presided over the injuries and addictions, business people who managed the racing programs and even an Fascist Italian government official who attempts to control the business.
Detailed descriptions of the race venues, like the Neurburgring, will make you feel you were there. These dangerous early races were mostly run on public roads in Italy, Sicily, Germany and even North Africa with spectators lining the roads at great risk of being killed themselves when a car would suddenly go out of control. We figuratively sit in the cars as these tenacious drivers risk their lives on mountain roads enduring long hours behind the wheel of these quirky and explosive cars.
We get a great sense of the racecars as well as Alfa, Maserati, Ferrari and Auto Union fought for supremacy on the track. The author includes enough detail of the specific cars, their powertrains, style and design to accommodate historical accuracy without including so much as to overwhelm those less interested in the details of the car’s construction.
Author Sandro Martini, a seasoned journalist who has worked on three continents and now lives near New York City, spent more than a decade immersed in this rich history developing a free-flowing story using a variety of narrators. The essence of the story comes from a fictional racing journalist who covered the sport first hand and now is being pursued tenaciously by a later generation journalist trying to make sense of it all. Even their relationship becomes a part of the story. The fast-paced dialog Martini creates punctuates the story with great skill and balance.
This is not an easy read as the narration jumps back and forth between storytellers, and the story itself is complex. You must pay attention to keep up and on course. It might be one of those books you’ll want to read twice, as one of my colleagues noted when reviewing the book. He did and I think I will too.
Tracks: Racing the Sun is a novel I can recommend for those who love motor racing and the rich history of the sport. I’ll never know where the historical accuracy ends and fictional enhancements begin, nor do I care very much. I just loved the whole package.
©Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved