Book Review: DRIVEN TO CRIME
True Stories of Wrongdoing in Motor Racing
“John Bartlett: Besides racing, he seems to have spent much of his time and money on womanizing, clubbing and hard drinking, reveling in the playboy lifestyle that for some was synonymous with the sport. One of his regular haunts was the Little Club in Knightsbridge and it was here, in 1953, that the good-looking 24-year-old first met Ruth Ellis…” and thus begins Chapter 9 (of 66) tales of people here associated with motor racing and the law.
By Doug Stokes & Stuart Rowlands
Thu, Jan 19, 2023 11:01 PM PST
Review by Doug Stokes
With additional comments by Stuart Rowlands
Illustrations courtesy publisher
If you are even the tiniest, most infinitesimally, least bit surprised or scandalized by the undertitle of this book, and consider yourself a motorsports fan, you really need to get out more.
And secondly... be aware, there’s a lot of lying, cheating, GBH, extortion, mayhem, and murder ahead with almost none of it taking place anywhere near a racetrack.
It’s my best guess that in almost any high-visibility system or sport which involves mega-quantities of money, ego, and status (like lawyers, doctors, rap moguls, wise-ass book reviewers, motorsports player, etc.) it’s pretty easy to find some dreadful dealings (...said dear little Pollyanna Stokes).
In “Driven To Crime” author Crispian Besley, (who right up front freely admits to having a “professional background in investment banking”), spins tight, fact-filled tales of sixty-five men and one woman who found themselves on the wrong side of someone or something somewhere along the line thus revealing the largely cautionary dealings which ensued. The premise there laid out, the stories are (relatively) concise (a page or a page and a half each) and the effect seems be something of an overall uneasy/queasy feeling about motorsports and the purity of the effort.
Let’s start here with the players, this book was written by an author who lives in Great Britain, so there a lot of racing names and noir dealings from that side of the Atlantic. But the USA is still well-represented by names like: Trevor Baines, Elmer George, Gene Haas, Randy Lanier, Don Nichols, John Paul Sr., Mickey Thompson, and the flying Whittington Brothers.
Like all mystery tales, revealing all of the story here would be cruel (to both potential readers and the publisher) so you’ll have to trust me that each of the sixty-six tales that are told here are both accurate and entertaining.
I’m a bit more aware of the ones that happened here in America of course. But the webs of deception and worse all seem to have different textures across borders and ocean even if they are all are focused tightly on dastardly deeds and foul play in motorsports.
Be assured, there was (and likely there still is) enough to go around.
Driven To Crime list them all. All 66 of them, all neatly stacked up in alphabetical order: the victims, the perps, the pigeons, the good, the bad, the innocents, the guilty, the wrongly-enriched, the bankrupted, the morally corrupted, the emotionally injured, the murdered and the murderers, the quick and the not so quick, and, last, but far from least: the slimy, smirking scot-free…
Most of the tales here are all (some more morbidly than others) fascinating in trying to understand how so many smart, talented, ambitious people could get so engulfed in bad business that’s cost lives, careers, and reputations by the lap.
… Many of these tales of tragedy (and worse) could easily be the center of an episode of “DCI Banks” or any one of a boatload of those British TV crime dramas. These capsule detective downloads run from Federal felons to protagonists who have long “… totally vanished from the face of the Earth”, with stories of greed, deception (and for the most part) retribution and comeuppance.
On a way far personal note here, many (many) years ago I rather hastily took two (post-dated) personal checks for $1,500.00 each for a Lotus 18 race car that I once owned … both of which came back NSF. That was a tidy sum back then, and that car, wherever it is, if still in one piece is worth about 10-20 times what the guy who got away with it never paid me. Small potatoes up to most of Besley’s yarns, but something that makes it far easier (for me at least) to believe these stories, and then some.
Again and in the author’s own words: “For those whose interest may be more focused on the crimes themselves rather than motor racing, it is important to understand how deeply addictive this sport can be and what seduces people into participating in it and sometimes going on to commit crime to enable them to do so. Of course, competitors in all sports want to win, but rarely does this urge turn into the compulsive addiction so often found in motor racing, where huge egos lie behind the ambition to be the very best with the accompanying lust for bigger, better, faster and more powerful machinery. Adrenaline is a very powerful hormone that can produce extreme emotions and motor racing…” Right, right.
On different kind of personal note … I worked for Mickey and Trudy Thompson as the PR person for the Mickey Thompson Off Road Championship Gran Prix Series and the later SuperCross events from 1984 to 1988, so I’m going to need to lay out of author Besley’s commentary on that one here because, even this far along, my own conclusions in that tragedy are still somewhat unresolved.
Note that these are fairly straight case studies, he (or she) done it (or had it done to them) told in pretty direct terms with minimal gun-play and bloodshed which one-by-one lay out the infraction, the effect, and some form of final judgment (at least in most cases).
Extra Credit Opinion(s)
Here’s something of a second opinion by our stalwart colleague Stuart Rowlands, himself originally from the Welsh countryside and a hale fellow who knows what he knows:
In his “Driven to Crime,” British author and motorsports aficionado, Crispian Besley has presented a fascinating panoply of murder, kidnapping, mayhem, assault, fraud and of course, grand theft that apparently has always been circulating in and around world class motorsports. He has somehow (sometimes tenuously), connected the dots between high level racing frauds – that included F1, NASCAR, IndyCar and Le Mans, to deliver tightly focused stories of outrageous crimes and even glimpses of horror. Each chapter reads like a morality play by a series of villains to whom being involved in motor racing was their passion and were prepared to go to any lengths to achieve their goals. In other words - ethics be-damned.
As a transplanted Brit living in the USA for more than 50 years (much of it involved in a variety of motorsports), I’ve worked with and known a small share of the US based ‘black hat’ characters in this book. However, my co-conspirator, (Oops, sorry my LACar colleague) Doug Stokes, has certainly known many of them longer and better, so I focused my attention on stories outside the USA in and around Europe and Japan.
Of course this is a worldwide crime scene and there were more than a few crossovers highlighted by the Chapman/DeLorean debacle. Phew – what a lot of crooks we had and what an enjoyable read their lives make.
At this stage of my review, I should point out that it is my belief that the upper classes of almost any society are prone to stealing when the world turns against them. Let’s face it, that’s how their ancestors made it.
...I have a friend who in the 1960’s was only a Lord, but who regularly victimized London Cabbies by jumping out of their cabs at traffic signals as they neared his destination and legging it.
That scofflaw is now a very dignified Peer of the Realm with Royal connections.
The more than 60 stories and sidebars in this 500-page dossier are well researched and presented in a very readable format. Many of the tales were ‘new’ to me, for example the Juan-Manuel Fangio kidnapping in Cuba or the one tale that sent shivers down my spine...death by hanging of Ruth Hornby in 1955 by Britain’s peerless hangman Albert Pierrepoint.
My only caveat is that Driven to Crime hits bookstores prior to Formula master-mind Bernie Ecclestone’s trial for fraud. Driven to Crime may well be my favorite motorsports book of 2022 and I can hardly wait for volume II.
And finally, here’s the type and toll of the crimes enumerated:
And since I am one (retired), please understand that by and large most of the professional people who work in professional motorsports are not criminals (a few jerks and idiots, yeah...but you’ve got them in every adventure).
For most there’s enough chances taken on the track. An old pit area joke does come to mind here however. When one race team accuses the other of cheating … and are asked how they know, the answer often is: “Well, we’re cheating, and THEY’RE beating us…”
DRIVEN TO CRIME
True Stories of Wrongdoing in Motor Racing
By Crispian Besley
Hardcover – 512 pages
Imprint: ERVO Publishing Ltd.
Published: Jan 10, 2023
About The Authors
Doug has a long and wide-ranging history in the motoring business. He served five years as the Executive Director of the International Kart Federation, and was the PR guy for the Mickey Thompson's Off-Road Championship Gran Prix. He worked racing PR for both Honda and Suzuki and was a senior PR person on the first Los Angeles (Vintage) Grand Prix. He was also the first PR Manager for Perris Auto Speedway, and spent over 20 years as the VP of Communications at Irwindale Speedway. Stokes is the recipient of the American Autowriters and Broadcaster’s 2005 Chapman Award for Excellence in Public Relations and was honored in 2015 by the Motor Press Guild with their Dean Batchelor Lifetime Achievement Award. “… I’ve also been reviewing automobiles and books for over 20 years, and really enjoy my LA Car assignments.” he added.
Stuart Rowlands is a long-time publicist with more than 500 events in 18 countries to his credit. Among his clients are the Nobel Peace Prize and Concert, the Quebec Ministry of Tourism, Muhammad Ali, and both Honda and Suzuki motorcycle racing teams. He admits to being a rock publicist in a former life and his resume includes more than a few fan riots as well as being terrified of taking Don King on a media tour. An inspired reader, Rowlands loves good books and we think that he reports on them quite well.