Amy’s #NASCAR Reading List: Enduring Courage by John F. RossPosted by in General | NASCAR | Non-NASCAR
“Racing appealed on a level far more deeply satisfying than fame and money; besides the pure adrenaline rush, it gave him an outlet for taking control and conquering life’s uncertainties.” John F. Ross, Enduring Courage: Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed.
It’s been awhile since I read anything- especially anything I could use for an installment of “Amy’s #NASCAR Reading List” but finally here it is! In this installment I am reviewing John F. Ross’s biography Enduring Courage: Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed. Chances are you are having one of two reactions to the title. One reaction might be “Who?” The other thought might be something along the lines of “World War One ace fighter pilot.” The second thought was what came into my head when I was asked if I would like a copy of this novel to review for my readers to the point I nearly turned it down. Luckily the words Indy 500 caught my eye and I thought- heck I will give it read.
I am glad I did. My dad is an aviation buff so I was familiar with the name Eddie Rickenbacker in that sense; ace pilot of World War I. But that is about all I really knew about him- that he flew biplanes in World War I. I am going to be honest- when in school I was never a huge fan of history. All those dates and names and places. But this book brings this era that we learned about in school to life for me with it’s words in a way that has never been done before. About the excitement and the constant changing of the industrial revolution and as the author calls it the “Age of Speed”. The book is very full of descriptive prose that make you feel like you are reading a novel instead of a biography.
The book is divided into three sections: RACING, FLYING, FIGHTING, IMMORTALITY. Each book delving into part of Rickenbacker’s life, but more than just his life but personality.
I was utterly riveted by the RACING section of the book of course and since that is what this website is about I am going to focus mostly on that section. Don’t let that dissuade you from reading about the rest of this book however- it is full of the grit and determination (and yes failure too) that makes an American legend and hero. Eddie Rickenbacker grew up in Ohio- the son of immigrant parents who worked very hard not to get what they wanted but to get what they needed to survive in this country.
What I loved about this book is that it wasn’t just about Eddie Rickenbacker the pilot, who you know raced in some of the first Indy 500s. It really delved into what it was like to drive race cars when the cars were “little more than engines, tires and two steel bucket seats mounted on a chassis.” No real body to the car to speak of, no windshields or seat belts, no firesuits or even helmets. And power steering? Ha! Good luck with that- there was absolutely no such thing- let along a suspension system. Racing these cars were actually a two man job- with both driver and mechanic riding along. The mechanic was not just a mechanic though- he was a combination mechanic, spotter and crew chief all rolled into one person- giving their drivers information via codes developed within the pair and delivered in often in signals such as leg taps. Drivers had to keep their attention only on the road in front of them as they were battered by the elements at speed as well as manhandling their machines on courses that were often just streets or empty fields.
The book even goes into the creation of Indianapolis Motor Speedway where Rickenbacker ran several races- including the first one before the track was brick. It was initially made of crushed limestone in 1909 which kicked up a terrible dust and that resulted over the race (set over three days) two driver deaths, two spectator deaths, and one mechanician death (they were the on board mechanic). Several spectators were injured , a driver was blinded by shrapnel- it was a poor racing surface to be sure.
Anyway- the book is FASCINATING and the descriptions are riveting. Even the description of the biplanes in the introduction caught my attention rather quickly:
“Rickenbacker sat within a highly combustible deathtrap, its heavily doped fabric stretched tight across wooden frames prone to catching fire from a single hostile bullet or sparks from his own engine.” (Introduction to Enduring Courage, by John F. Ross)
I highly recommend this book- it would satisfy a rage of people including- aviation buffs, history buffs, and those interested in the beginnings of grassroots racing in the United States. For more information on author John F Ross visit his website: JohnFRoss.com.
An advanced readers copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.
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