Up front, I need to acknowledge that I have almost no interest in automobile racing competition. However, I did enjoy seeing the 1966 film starring James Garner, Grand Prix, and reading James MacGregor's book, Sunday Money: Speed! Lust! Madness! Death! A Hot Lap Around America with NASCAR (2005). That said, I now acknowledge that A. J. Baime's Go Like Hell is one of the most entertaining as well as one of the most informative books I have read in many years. Moreover, it is much less about automotive racing than it is about the competition between two industrialists, Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari, to dominate Formula One racing in the 1960s. However, viewed (as it should be) as a human drama, there are several other prominent characters who are centrally involved in the various conflicts: Lee Iacocca and his chief engineer, Donald Frey, Phil Hill, Carroll Shelby, John Surtees, Ken Miles, Bruce McLaren, Walt Hangsden, and Mario Andretti.
As Charles McGrath points out in an article about Baime in The New York Times (6/09/09), "The centerpiece of the story is the quest by Henry Ford II, or the Deuce, as he was known, to end Ferrari's string of victories at Le Mans, the 24-hour road race that at the time was probably the world's most dangerous sporting event. He was convinced that Ford's racing success would translate into sales back home in the showroom, but he was also locked in a personal rivalry with the imperious Enzo Ferrari, head of the Italian car company. It took Ford three tries and countless millions, but he finally prevailed when a Ford GT40 Mk II, driven by Bruce McLaren, won at Le Mans in 1966."
Displaying the world-class skills of a cultural anthropologist and of a raconteur, Baime carefully guides his reader through a narrative of increasing tension and apprehension until Chapters 21-23 during which the 24-hour "Grand Prix of Endurance" is run at La Mans on a racetrack described in the Detroit News as "a cornfield airstrip in the jet age. It was built 50 years ago for cars that went 65 mph. Tomorrow [June 18] 55 race cars - some of them capable of 225 mph on the straightaway and all of them over the 130 mph class - will get off at 10 A.M. (Detroit time) and it will be a miracle if no one gets killed. Nobody is fearless. Some of these drivers are scared stiff." The climactic race in 1966 had an especially controversial conclusion, what was widely viewed as an "infamous photo finish" and won "by a technicality." The details are best revealed within the narrative, in context.
Baime provides a riveting account of the competition between Ferrari and Ford and their respective racing programs, competition creating tension that is almost palpable. He also celebrates the almost incomprehensible courage as well as athleticism, skills, and stamina of those who drive the Formula One cars, notably Phil Hill, John Surtees, Walt Hangsden, and especially Ken Miles. In the Epilogue, Baime answers a question most readers have after learning what happened at Le Mans in 1966: "And then what happened?" It would not spoil it for anyone who has yet to read this book to reveal that the major "players" in this compelling human drama were never quite the same again after that race.
For those such as I who have little (if any) interest in automobile racing competition, this is a great read. For those with such interest, it is a "must read."
I first heard about this book on the Adam Carolla Carcast. I was a really big fan of the GT40 race car from playing Gran Turismo 3 on the Playstation due to the car's aggressive styling, impressive handling, and unique exhaust note (again...all from playing the game). I decided to pick up this book to get the backstory on the GT40 having no idea just how entwined this story was to all of auto racing. The names of the real-life characters in this book resonate … more
Professionally, I am an independent management consultant who specializes in accelerated executive development and breakthrough high-impact organizational performance. I also review mostly business books … more
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By the early 1960s, the Ford Motor Company, built to bring automobile transportation to the masses, was falling behind. Young Henry Ford II, who had taken the reins of his grandfather’s company with little business experience to speak of, knew he had to do something to shake things up. Baby boomers were taking to the road in droves, looking for speed not safety, style not comfort. Meanwhile, Enzo Ferrari, whose cars epitomized style, lorded it over the European racing scene. He crafted beautiful sports cars, "science fiction on wheels," but was also called "the Assassin" because so many drivers perished while racing them. Go Like Hell tells the remarkable story of how Henry Ford II, with the help of a young visionary named Lee Iacocca and a former racing champion turned engineer, Carroll Shelby, concocted a scheme to reinvent the Ford company. They would enter the high-stakes world of European car racing, where an adventurous few threw safety and sanity to the wind. They would design, build, and race a car that could beat Ferrari at his own game at the most prestigious and brutal race in the world, something no American car had ever done. Go Like Hell transports readers to a risk-filled, glorious time in this brilliant portrait of a rivalry between two industrialists, the cars they built, and the "pilots" who would drive them to victory, or doom.