FUEL & GUTS: THE BIRTH OF TOP FUEL DRAG RACING
By Tom Madigan
Published by Motorbooks
Drag racing histories are, it seems, a dime a dozen, and for good reason. Packed with colorful characters, dramatic stories filled with real danger and excitement, and belonging to the past, but not so far gone that we don’t still have the people involved to tell us about it, the numbers of drag racing histories are as natural as can be.
What then, is there to recommend Tom Madigan’s Fuel & Guts? In a word, everything. Sacrificing scope for depth, Fuel & Guts focuses exclusively on the development of Top Fuel racing, and specifically on Southern California from the fifties to the late seventies. That’s not to say that gassers and eastern racers don’t get mentioned, but Madigan has a story to tell and he zeroes in on it with laser-like precision. In that context, he presents an immaculately researched history that makes for good weekend reading. War and Peace it may not be, but you also won’t tear through it in an evening. Rather, it strikes the perfect balance of length; not too long, not too short. The book never flags, largely because of the many voices in it.
You see, rather than write the history himself, Madigan went to the horse’s mouth, as it were, and interviewed the men and women who were there at the beginning, who in one way or another, participated in, or contributed to the birth of the sport. And what a list of interviewees. Don Garlits, Don ‘Snake’ Prudhomme, and Tom ‘Mongoose’ McEwen are just some of the more famous racers whose words tell the story. But rather than just talk to the drivers, Madigan also brings us the stories of track owners, chassis and engine builders, as well as the friends and families of the people involved. Some focus on just what they did, the parts they played, others muse about the larger picture, all are fascinating, and some tragic, as they speak of those who gave their lives in the quest for speed and victory.
Capturing these stories visually are a host of photos, some from the author’s collection, many more from the collections of the people involved, from old magazines, match posters, all in all, a brilliant collection, many of which capture unique cars, bygone times, and the genesis of a new thing.