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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Blood and Smoke: A True Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and the Birth of the Indy 500 by Charles Leerhsen

A Total Joy 

Published in 2011 by Simon and Schuster

Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of the Indy 500. I have been to every 500 since 1986 and I live within earshot of the track. I have whiled away many a day at the track watching qualifications, practice or just going through the gift shop during the winter when the track is silent.

Charles Leerhsen's recounting of the first few years of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is an interesting, fun and controversial book.

What is interesting?

An ad from a San Francisco newspaper bragging that the
Marmon Wasp won the Indy 5000. Note the inclusion of the
riding mechanic even though Harroun did not have one.
Leerhsen tells the story of early 1900s Indianapolis, the beginnings of America's automobile culture, auto racing and the construction of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a nearly seamless manner so that it all becomes one large story. It is a story of inspired (crazy?) businessmen, a fascination with what is "modern", and a growing fascination with cars in a time when life was comparatively cheap (auto racing was extremely dangerous for drivers and spectators).

What is fun?

Leerhsen has a knack for finding the humor in any situation and keeping the story moving along in a fact-filled and entertaining way. It was truly enjoyable to get his take on life in Indianapolis around 1910.

What is controversial?

Leerhsen dares to challenge the conventional story of the first Indianapolis 500 and asserts that in the confusion of this very long race (200 laps in a time when 10 laps was considered a long race) Ray Harroun and his Marmon Wasp did not win. I remain unconvinced (as does the hugely-respected Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian Donald Davidson) but freely admit that the scoring system was flawed.

A thoroughly enjoyable read.

5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Blood and Smoke.

Reviewed on May 4, 2013

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