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Blood and Smoke

A True Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and the Birth of the Indy 500
Blood and Smoke: A True Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and the Birth of the Indy 500. S. & S. May 2011. c.288p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781439149041. $26. SPORTS
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The earliest auto races were more about endurance than speed, writes Leerhsen (Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch, the Most Famous Horse in America). Cars were more likely to break down, burst into flames, or fall apart than complete the race, and drivers weren't sure they'd be alive at the finish line. Early automakers wanting to promote sales of their cars—like Louis Chevrolet—and promoters looking to net a tidy profit joined forces to promote auto racing as a spectator sport. With alternating tales of horrifying crashes and the schemes of Carl Fisher, who promoted the Indianapolis Speedway as a venue for airplane races, this is a ripping good yarn of America in the early 20th century. Leerhsen, a witty storyteller, draws from contemporary articles, histories, and interviews to pull readers into a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the building of the Speedway and the first race.
VERDICT While the primary audience is auto racing fans and those interested in Indiana history, this book has broad appeal, with laugh-out-loud stories and characters who would be unbelievable if they turned up in fiction. Highly recommended.

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