A friend of mine said, whenever I pick up this book I can’t put it down in less than 30 minutes. I certainly know how he feels. From the front cover to the last picture in the book, John Stein’s Motorcycle Drag Racing: A History, is completely absorbing and totally fascinating.
I met John at an informal meeting of old drag racers and Bonneville runners in Monrovia, CA that included such luminaries as Ed Iskandarian,(Isky Racing Cams) Sam Wheeler (EZHook Streamliner) and Clem Johnson (The Barn Job Vincent). He was there because much of the research for the book’s early chapters was done right there in that room with all these “old timers.” The book does not lack in pedigree or authenticity.
John tells me that his obsession with drag racing goes back to his childhood when he poured over magazines and books featuring these go fast machines. You cannot help but notice this obsession when you read the pages. The book has something for everyone who was ever been interested in any era of motorcycle drag racing. From the earliest days when guys duked it out on the Southern California strips such as Saugus and SanFernando to the current decade of young talented racers on top fuel monsters, the book has it all with awesome pictures and interesting reading.
My favorite parts of the book of course details the “early days.” Chapter three is particularly noteworthy and is entitled “The Pioneers: 1950-1960.” The first picture in that chapter is of a very young George Smith, founder of S&S Cycle crouched low on a Harley Davidson Knucklehead dragster. Next is Louis Castro on the Brute posed in front of the jet airplane he once beat in a race for publicity. You cannot turn a page without seeing and reading about the legendary drag bikes of the 1950s era; Chet Herber’s The Beast, Loyd Crant’s Giant Killer, and Bud Hare’s Dubble Trubble.
Chapter four features what Stein calls the “Golden Age of Motorcycle Drag Racing” the 1960s. For those of us who are hopelessly stuck in that age of motorcycling, this chapter is absolute gold and diamonds. The first picture shows Jeff Gough burning the tire and lifting the front wheel on a Carl’s Speed Shop built Harley Davidson Sportster. But I have to stress that this is not just a coffee table picture book, although the pictures are undeniably fantastic, often unpublished in any other format or taken from private collections. John also gives a great history lesson in all things drag racing. He provides written details of the up and coming aftermarket industry that was being born in the 1960s. We get a glimpse at the early pioneers of drag race manufacturing. Names like Yetman, Kosman Specialties, T&M Cams, S&S Cycle, Webco and many, many others get honorable mention.
Although the early days interest me more than later stuff, fans of the style and technology of drag racing in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s will not be disappointed. We get into the minds of Vance and Hines, we see copious pictures of double engine Honda Fours, triple engine Kawasaki Triples, and a host of other way, way out machines. Again the legendary heroes of the sport and their machines are prominently featured; Hogslayer, Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, the Sorcerer, Russ Collins, TC Christianson, The Denco Triple Triple. We get coverage of pioneers such as Elmer Trett, Tony Lang and Larry “Spiderman” McBride. John also includes chapters on Rules, Sanctioning bodies and Sponsorships.
I could go on and on about the chapters in the book and the bike names, but you will just have to buy the book and find out for yourself how cool the bikes and guys who raced them are. Before I sign off and tell you where to buy the book, I would like to make a couple more points. The first of my last words have to do with the quality of research in this book. John has meticulously researched this book, not just by pouring over magazines from the various era of drag racing but by conducting dozens of personal interviews with legendary and not so legendary racers, scouring hours of film and TV broadcasts and reading and using books and biographies of racers, tuners and manufacturers. Sandy Kosman, a personal friend of Stein provides a very nice introduction to the book. All in all this book is a fantastic read and an even more fantastic visual experience. Get ready to spend hours and hours looking at the pictures and reading the text. You won’t be able to put it down once you relax and start enjoying it.
You can order the book directly from John at http://gearheadpublishing.com/order-the-book/
You cannot find a better way to spend your hard earned dough!!