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Blood and Smoke: A True Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and the Birth of the Indy 500 [Paperback]

Charles Leerhsen
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
Price: 8.94 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Product details

  • Paperback: 273 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (22 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439149054
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439149058
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 14.9 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,737,287 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Charles Leerhsen has crafted a superb gem of a book with this amusing account of the birth of the Indianapolis 500 . This book really is a delight . I was in the midst of more serious reading when I picked up this book . I could not put it down . Leerhsen introduces us to a cast of larger than life characters that no author of fiction could conjure up . The book moves at an admirable pace , never letting the readers interest flag . In style , imagine Bill Bryson at his very best . I can thoroughly recommend this book to anyone looking for a truly enjoyable read , whether or not they have an interest in motorsports history . It is both informative and deeply , deeply , amusing .
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  20 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blood and Smoke: A True Tale of Mystery, Mayhem and the Birth of the Indy 500 4 May 2011
By Dennis E. Horvath - Published on Amazon.com
Since I try to be transparent and in the interest of full disclosure, I admit that Charles used me as a resource in his research and he mentioned our interviews twice in his book. My intent in reviewing Blood and Smoke is to present my observations about his treatment about the first Indianapolis 500.

Blood and Smoke: A True Tale of Mystery, Mayhem and the Birth of the Indy 500 is the story of events leading up to and the running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 30, 1911. All of this takes place at the coming-of-age of automobile racing in the American entertainment industry. This account includes many personalities and other entities at the cutting edge of an event now known as "Greatest Spectacle in Racing."

The history starts in winter of 1908 when Carl G. Fisher, James A. Allison, Arthur C. Newby and Frank H. Wheeler pooled $250,000 to improve a 320 acre parcel northwest of Indianapolis, thus launching the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Construction of the macadam track began in mid-March with the first auto races scheduled for a three-day meet beginning August 19, 1909. The track's attendance was over 75,000 for the three days and numerous records were set. But tragedy quickly ended Fisher's elation. By the time the three days of racing were over, seven people were dead. He knew something had to be done about the hazardous racing surface. The crushed stone track proved to be unsuitable for racing. Within a few weeks, the owners decided to repave the track with 3,200,000 ten-pound paving bricks, thus "The Brickyard" was born.

The year 1910 saw a number of events at the end of May, July 4th and Labor Day weekend, but attendance numbers declined at each event. On September 7, 1910, the Speedway founders announced plans for a automobile race with a purse of $25,000 in cash prizes, for a single day of racing. The date for the first Indianapolis 500 was finally set for May 30, 1911.

The city of Indianapolis was bubbling over with anticipatory excitement for the first 500. Its two premier hotels had been sold out for race week since New Year's Day, and thoroughfares were clogged with gridlock with fans attempting to get to the track.

On the morning of the race, the crowd saw 40 race cars start the race complete with aerial bombs. But, as the race progressed the race standings became more and more confused. The Speedway's four manual scoreboards were usually not in agreement, and at mid-race the pit timing stand was unattended for about 10 minutes due to a nearby accident. Other problems with the official timing system further muddled the race results. Ray Harroun was awarded the first place winnings of $14,250 in purse and accessory prizes.

Charles Leerhsen's incredible research, writing, and character studies of the story's key figures, like Carl Fisher, Barney Oldfield, Ralph Mulford, Ray Harroun, Howard Marmon, and their riding mechanics, weave you into the story. His familiarity with the times of the era create a riveting tale of the birth of the Indianapolis 500.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good read, but why all the hate for Fisher? 1 Jun 2011
By Rand Thompson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was really looking forward to this book, and I thought it started off good and flowed very well. By the time I finished it however I was a little weary. The vast majority of the book sets up the background story,and only the last couple chapters discuss the first 500.

The author spends the vast majority of the book with an apparent vendetta against speedway founder Carl Fisher. While all the previous biographies of Fisher that I have read are written by relatives and thusly very sympathetic, he was probably not the brilliant saint as he was portrayed. That being said, the constant denigration of Fisher in this book gets a little tiresome by the end, and it appeared to be just piling on after a point.

I did enjoy the stories about various drivers, officials and other participants, as the author was able to delve into their mannerisms, proclivities, and personalities. While the books flows very well and is written in an entertaining manner, the author's use of hyperbole is often overdone. Just one example is when Ray Harroun's methodical plan of racing is described as comparable to the "gradual accumulation of mutual funds through payroll deduction"

Anyway, don't get me wrong, the author did do quite of bit of reasearch and I did enjoy reading the book, but certain parts of it left me feeling somewhat annoyed.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blood and Smoke: A True Tale of Mystery, Mayhem and the Birth of the Indy 500 11 May 2011
By J Michael Kenyon - Published on Amazon.com
Charles Leerhsen has done a swell job of describing the emergence of auto racing in America ... there isn't a word which seems out of place, not a wrong note sounded anywhere. His perspicacity in constructing a memorable tome about one of the truly remarkable events in American sports history is to be applauded. This is a thoughtfully and diligently researched book -- and a damned good read.

"Blood and Smoke" can now stand as a definitive work on quite a few aspects of the racing game's early history ... and, at the same time, it is one of the few sports books for which there exists an actual REASON for writing. That Ralph Mulford was discounted as the actual winner of the first Indianapolis 500 -- this book arrives on the event's centennial -- has long been a subject for debate.

Leerhsen does a masterful job of building the case, brick by brick, as it were, for Mulford -- and against Ray Harroun, the acknowledged winner, and "Crazy Carl" Fisher, the man who engineered not only the speedway itself but the final result of the inaugural 500. By the denouement, the reader is perfectly understanding of Mulford's "gentlemanly" acceptance of the verdict. Particularly poignant is Leerhsen's delightful telling of Mulford's sassy and lackadaisical "fried chicken and ice cream finish" to the 1912 race.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian par excellence Donald Davidson has long been in the vanguard of those staunchly defending the official "result" favoring Harroun. But Davidson had only a feeble comeback when Leerhsen discussed Fisher's destruction of all the timing and scoring sheets during a two-day, post-race "investigation" of the final results.

It is, admitted Davidson, "the thing that's hardest to reconcile."

Throughout, Leerhsen's generous use of whimsy, irony and humor provides welcome flourish to the text.

If the result of the inaugural 500 ever IS changed (and it ought to be, or at least Harroun's name should be followed by an asterisk in the record books), Leerhsen's efforts will have been paramount to the cause.

"Blood and Smoke" has provided us with a clear, critical and accurate view of history -- something seldom seen in these nebulous times in which we live.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars good story, poor execution 26 Jun 2011
By J. Gangloff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
While the subjects of early racing, the Indy 500, and Carl Fisher are very interesting the author's overdone use of analogies and hyperboles were tiresome. It seemed as if the author was not only telling a story but also trying to impress us with how cute and creative he could be. Just give us the story and the history.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Indy 500-- and a lot more... 27 Jan 2012
By L. F. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book. It is, of course, an examination of the first Indy 500 race in 1911. However, in the process of writing that book, the author has also written a very good book about what the US was like at the turn of the 20th century and the birth of the automobile age.

First, the race: It's fairly common knowledge-- at least among car racing fans-- that there was a certain amount of controversy and uncertainty about the results of the first Indy 500. That's to be expected, given the primitive timing equipment and the simple fact that no one had ever staged such a long track race previously. However, the author makes it clear that the race fairly quickly devolved into near chaos; no one there-- not the fans, not the race officials, not the reporters, and not even the competitors-- had a clear idea about who was in what position after the first 40 or 50 miles of the race. At the end of the race, while the driver who thought he had won was taking a victory lap, Ray Harroun was being congratulated as the winner in victory lane. Finally, after many hours of closed-door work by the judges, his victory was confirmed, and all of the timing notes were destroyed.

So, did Harroun win? As the author makes clear, no one really knows. He very well might have won. On the other hand, he may have finished in second or third place. There was so much confusion-- and maybe even a bit of corruption-- that the actual result will never be known.

While the author is relating that history, he also examines the birth of the American car culture at the turn of the century. We've forgotten that there were dozens of car manufacturers building machines of every variety at that time. The sport of car racing was born about the same time as the car, and it served the manufacturers as a way to test their machines, and-- much more importantly-- as a way to market them. Not surprisingly, the investors in the race track at Indianapolis were closely connected to the local car manufacturers. In particular, Howard Marmon, the builder of Ray Harroun's car, had a very close relationship with Carl Fisher, the chief among the investors in the track. The implication for the resolution of the race's winner is obvious.

Finally, the book makes clear the extreme danger that the drivers faced. The cars were inherently dangerous, there was no safety equipment at all, and the tracks were rough at best and nearly impassable at worst. Nearly any mechanical failure or moment of poor judgment could send a car spinning and tumbling out of control and fling the driver and riding mechanic out of the car and into the fences or even the spectators. The "blood" in the title is not a stylistic conceit.

I really enjoyed this book. I learned a great deal about the race and about the US at that time. I was also highly entertained. What more could I ask for in a book? I recommend it most highly.
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