Book Review: The Racers – Endurance Motor Racing 1963-1973

The Racers – Endurance Motor Racing 1963-1973 is a personal, fast-paced chronicle that covers 10 years of “Langstrekenrennen”, or German for “Long Distance Races”.

The Racers

Langstreckenrennen – Endurance Motor Racing 1963-1973

The Personal Scrapbook of Al Satterwhite

By Al Satterwhite

ISBN: 978-3-667-11856-1

Publisher: Delius Klasing Verlag

Hardcover

Pages: 192

Size: 9 in. x 10.5

298 illustrations (192 color)

$95 US / $128.50 CBN

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Want to meet the author? If you’re in Burbank on September 12, you can!

WhatMeet Al Satterwhite, Author of The Racers
WhenSeptember 12, 2020
Time10:00 AM – 2:00 PM
WhereAutobooks in Burbank – (MAP)

News Media pass for the author, Al Satterwhite.
News Media pass for the author, Al Satterwhite. Photo by Al Satterwhite.

This one says (right on the rather garish cover) “The Personal Scrapbook of Al Satterwhite”, and it is all of that.  The sub-title is a bit more specific with: “Long Distance Races” or “Langstrekenrennen” in German as is all of the English copy in this one duplicated in the language of the fatherland and the book’s publishers in Bielefeld, Germany.

… Covering 10 years of competition at America’s two world-class endurance motor racing events, the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Daytona, “The Racers” contains a wealth of very personal photos of drivers and along with sharp action shots of the race cars set off by some quick commentary by the author/photographer about each photo.  Adding to the enjoyment of the view, the author’s comments here that almost sound as if he made the observation at the moment that the pushed the shutter button. 

There’s an anticipatory tone to many of the shots that reminds that these were “endurance” races where speed was critical, but skill, planning, teamwork, keeping one’s nose clean, and just being there 12 or 24 hours down the road were the inevitable keys to championships.

There are also some well-chosen era-correct words from the a couple of the true good guys who populated that time, like Brian Redman, who writes an amazingly detailed foreword, as well as an interview by Bob Bondurant that fills in many of the blanks about the above aspects of long distance racing, and very personal Nachtwort (Afterword) by the redoubtable David Hobbs.

Ken Miles at Sebring
Ken Miles at Sebring. Photo by Al Satterwhite.

The 10-year period that Satterwhite here covers is peopled by a now-legendary cast of characters seemingly from a silver age of professional sports car racing, if not golden.  Among them Carroll Shelby, Dan Gurney, Mark Donohue, Ken Miles, Graham Hill, Stirling Moss, Roger Penske, Ricardo Rodriguez, Mario Andretti, Peter Revson, Bruce McLaren, Phil Hill, A.J, Foyt, along with TV and film actors James Garner, Steve McQueen.  McQueen was actually racing and winning during the era, and Garner, who was a pretty fair racer in his own right, and a (relatively) successful racing team owner. 

This book looks and reads like a fast-paced newsreel, with some quick details of these races from inside the mind and memory of a crack top-line motorsports shooter who was there and has done a great job of reanimating those long ago deeds and on-track duels that still excite today.  Like many scrapbooks, “The Racers” is personal … the fact that the author is so willing (and so articulate about it) to share those days makes this book a worthy part of the permanent record of racing.

We mentioned the term: “scrapbook” earlier and that’s the art direction here: faux bits of cellophane tape holding the photos to each page, chunks of 35mm film, media passes, and official ID hardcards are scattered (artistically of course) throughout … is the motif here.  It’s a bit distracting at first, but by about half way through the book I was able to defocus on that aspect and simply enjoy the collection.

The author’s acknowledgments for this book are relatively brief and we’ll run them here in full to give a sense of his feelings about this book and how it came to be:

NOTES AND THANKS: I would like to thank my wife Valery for putting up with my long hours/days/months working on this project. It has meant a lot to me. I want to thank Brian Redman, Bob Bondurant and David Hobbs, too, for their great descriptions of those long-ago days. These men, these great racing drivers, survived to tell the tale after years of putting their lives and skills on the line. Talented champions all, they bring the ‘real deal’ with their words.

Kamal Singh (Clipping Xperts) and Saquib Ansari (Done Images) did a masterful job with their crews removing the dust and scratches from those 50-year-old Tri-X negatives. I would also like to thank the photo editors at Newsweek, Paris Match, Road & Track, Sports Illustrated and Time magazines for their assignments and support during those years. And, of course, all the people that actually ran the races at Daytona and Sebring—especially the corner workers, the pit marshals and other safety workers.

My heart goes out to all those drivers who gave it their best, only to drop out or lose on account of technical issues or problems beyond their control. They never gave up until they had to. It was a very dangerous time and yet they never flinched. And the pit crews, often overworked, never gave up either.

As for the details, all of the black-and-white images are on Kodak Tri-X (rated at 400 ASA); color is mostly my almost exclusive use of Kodachrome 25 and Kodak high-speed Ektachrome for the night work. My cameras were the Nikon F and F2 or the Leica M2 and M4 cameras. Lenses for the Nikon were 85mm and 180mm when working in the pit area. Out on the track I used everything from 300mm to 1000mm Nikkors depending on what I was trying to do image-wise. The Leicas were usually 35mm and 21mm.   – Al Satterwhite

Legendary driver Chris Amon.
Legendary driver Chris Amon.

… And one more thing: you are right (and either very old or an old racing movie buff or both). There was a movie made in 1955 called “The Racers”.  It starred Kirk Douglas as Gino Borgesa, and featured exotic femme fatal Bella Darvi as Nicole Laurent, with silent screen heartthrob Gilbert Rowland, a young Cesar Romero, and an always scowling Lee. J Cobb in support.  Here are the first and last lines of a capsule plot for the film:

Race-car driver Gino Borgesa meets a ballerina, Nicole Laurent, whose pet poodle causes a crash at the track. She persuades an ex-lover to give Gino money for a new car. They begin a romance, although Gino warns her that his racing comes first … In time, Gino’s stature in racing begins to fall, and he is alone. He begs Nicole to return, but she is involved with Michel now. A contrite Gino returns to the track, where he willingly lets Michel speed past him.

Rarely seen on even the very latest of the late night movies channels, you might want to try to scare up a copy just for fun.  There’s no CGI, but slowing the camera down a few frames per second to speed up the racing action was a known cinematography technique at the time and it gets a pretty good workout here, along with a surfeit of wistful/withering looks and broken race talk from just about everyone in the cast for the entire 88 minutes of its length.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT: As it turns out, Mister Satterwhite is not just a very accomplished motorsports photographer, but is a very talented shooter when it comes to personalities as well. 

A check stop at his site (www.alsatterwhite.com) will amaze and entertain as this guy exposes a few (hundred) rolls of Kodak Tri-X shooting portfolios of interesting people that include Jane Fonda, Frank Gehry, Bob Hope, Hunter S. Thompson, and “Pistol” Pete Maravich among others, and are set off with a wonderfully grisly line-up of portraits of Daytona Bike Week celebrants that rivals the cast glossies of any post-apocalyptic biker movie ever made. -DS

 

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