on 18 March 2008
I received this book as a Christmas present. My first impression was that it looked like a small coffee table book - the quality of the illustrations, photo's and paper. It could be remain that but then you would miss out on a fascinating story of a different era in motor racing. Once I started reading, I was hooked. The writing style is very easy read and the structure of the book easy to understand.
For someone who has only watched Formula 1 since the days of Ayrton Senna and only peripherally aware of the origins of McLaren Racing, most of what is told was news to me. This was an era when well designed cars would last multiple seasons, when a driver surviving to retirement was unusual, when sponsors supplied material goods and when aerodynamics were just being introduced.
The thing that stands out is the camaraderie among the drivers and teams, particularly the "New Zealand" contingent. The most moving moment is the death of Bruce McLaren, the effect his loss had on everyone involved and the courage of the team and specific individuals to deliver Bruce's vision anyway.
Phil Kerr is a person who knew, and still knows, many of the great names in motor racing. There is a foreword by Sir Jack Brabham and afterword by Bernie Eccleston which both reflect on his unique position to be able to provide an insight into this era of motor racing.
This is a must read for anyone interested in the history of Formula 1, McLaren Racing or Can-Am racing.
on 13 October 2009
Kerr was a senior member of the Brabham and then McLaren teams in the 60s and 70s, which may be considered a classic era of motor sport, but which was undoubtedly horrifyingly dangerous. As the period of my formative years, I look back on it with a good deal of nostalgia, so am pleased to find more behind-the-scenes insights from someone close to some of my favourite drivers.
The book is generally organised sequentially: beginning with a scene setting look at his early life growing up with Bruce McLaren in NZ; his time as manager of Jack Brabham's business and racing enterprises; his switch to the emergent McLaren team at the end of 1967, through triumph and tragedy; and a brief overview of his years since quitting at the end of 1975. My only criticism, a very minor one at that (and, incidentally, one I would apply to a majority of motor racing bios or autobios), is the `McLaren years' become increasingly a bio of the team as it progresses, ie a little less personal, especially after Bruce's death.
It is a fascinating journey, thoroughly absorbing from beginning to end. I found his `Brabham years' more interesting than the McLaren ones, probably because I knew less about them. It is, though, an emotional roller-coaster ride: I defy anyone to remain dry-eyed after chapter 15 describing the tragic events in June 1970! Kerr cannot avoid the darker moments yet generally he doesn't dwell on them and his prose is refreshingly straightforward, not given to high melodrama.
Many characters shine through with shrewd understanding and a great deal of sympathy. For me, Denny Hulme is the book's true hero as his stature grows during the turbulent years of the early 70s. I believe I undervalued him when I was young, but I learnt the error of my ways: Kerr underlines just what a super person he was. Without the big-hearted Bear's courage and determination, who knows what would have happened to the team in the aftermath of Bruce's accident.
To Finish First is one of those must-have un-put-downable books essential to anyone with an interest in motor sport's history. It is superbly presented on quality paper with numerous illustrations, many not seen before, and is easily affordable. Highly recommended.
on 8 May 2008
Engaging and interesting from an era that I thoroughly enjoyed. Having started to be interested in motor sport from the early 60's and then having the opportunity to visit circuits from 1965 onwards, I grew up with McLaren and Brabham Racing. In 1968 I watched the McLarens being pushed out of a little workshop in the back streets of Monaco and watching Denny drive over the cobbles sans helmet. At the same time I was reading the 'Bruce & Denny show' in Autosport every Canam race.
This book brings to life all of the experiences of the sixties and seventies, particularly 1970 when so many racers lost their lives.
I think that Phil has another book tucked away in his memory banks for the anecdotes from pre 1975 and his life after McLaren. The only other person that has written about this period is Eoin Young, but from a different perspective. Lets hear it for the boys!
on 2 June 2008
This is a long book (by motor racing standards) at nearly 400 pages but I after reading it I felt that it was too short! The first part of the book had me slightly bored as it dealt largely with places/ people & cars in New Zealand which I had never really heard of (but are absolutely neccessary for the book). Once he moved to the UK in the late 50's the book just gets better and better for me.
It is not always in strict chronological order but that may not be a bad thing and if you do read it carefully it does make sense. However I was left wanting to know many things that were not in the book (probably left out by the publisher to keep the length manageable), for instance unless I had consumed too many glasses of wine & missed it (quite possible!) there is no description of obtaining Yardley Sponsorship for Maclaren but a lengthy discourse on changing it to Malborough/Texaco. Likewise apart from a couple of early mentions during the early Brabham years there is no mention of Eoin Young (that man again) or his relationship with Maclaren until the immediate aftermath of Bruce's tragic death. Also as another reviewer has mentioned his widow is never mentioned again even though the book does usefully update the lives of several other key people such as Denny Hulme & Mike Hailwood?
However overall I found the book to be absolutely superb and very informative. The balance between results and the real people behind them is probably as good as it gets. Why is it the best Motor Racing books are not produced by writers or ghost writers?