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Monday, May 9, 2011
Long Kiss: An American Ritual by Charles West
As the month of May is coming close, this Indianapolis resident and attender of 25 straight Indy 500 races and all of the Brickyard 400s (17, I think) knows what it means to be in love with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. So, I picked up this book in order to see what another gigantic fan had to say about this experience.
Charles West, unlike me, did not grow up visiting the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (my mother's parents lived just a few blocks from the main gate and I clearly remember attending several qualification days and hearing Tom Carnegie's sweet velvet baritone call out, "It's a neeeew traaaaack recoooord!") Instead, West grew up in Texas and most of his memories were radio broadcasts and delayed TV broadcasts. He also clearly remembers seeing Johnny Rutherford's yellow Pennzoil Chaparral on display as a little boy - that hooked him. For me, it was hearing that distinctive whine of the engines in the 1980s as a lone car drove around the track - you could hear it echo over the stands as the car traveled around the 2.5 mile speedway. It gives me chills even now.
11 years ago, West decided to go to the race - to experience The Big Everything as he calls the 500. West was a long-time veteran attendee of big time auto racing, having been to several NASCAR races, IRL races and CART races. But, this was different and he knew it. West describes every race he attends for 10 years - his drive there, where he stayed, where he sat, the souvenirs and his pre- and post-race rituals. I loved those parts of the book - I knew every place he stayed, the routes he took, where he sat and the restaurants he ate (how can he hate Pizza King? Oh well, at least he loves the Noble Romans on West 10th Street). He even gives away my "secret" back entrance to the Town of Speedway that only us locals know about (How could you do that?!? If I have to sit in extra traffic this year...).
The rest of the book is more problematic. Charles West describes a difficult relationship with his family, his wife, his wife's family but does little to explain the difficulties with his wife and her family. He does do a lot of explaining and details his growth as a person during this difficult time in his life (and some problems are quite heart-breaking, especially where his father is concerned) but it was an odd combination of too much dirty laundry and not enough. He told too much personal information for a book that was primarily about a fan's love of a race, and not enough for a personal journal about his personal growth.
So, I kinda buzzed through the personal stuff and read the racing parts. Despite the occasionally clunky turn of the phrase and the personal struggles story line, I very much enjoyed sharing this fellow fan's passion for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and especially the Indy 500.
I rate this book 4 stars out of 5 with the caveat that no one but a hard core racing fan would have the remotest interest in this book.
This book can be found on Amazon.come here: Long Kiss.
Reviewed on May 9, 2011.