Hooniverse Bookshelf: America Edition – "American Wheel Man"

Happy America day. To celebrate, I’ve lined up three book reviews today that celebrate the speed, ingenuity, and forward-thinking ways that used to typify the American automotive and racing industries. There was at time when we could proudly stand as a nation and see our drivers, cars, and teams taking on the best that the world could throw at us. There’s a bit of that remaining today, but certainly nothing like it was in the 60s and 70s. Racetracks the world over were dominated by our best cars, and driven by our most prolific drivers. This is the third of today’s books. In his day, George Follmer was one of the best racing drivers around, getting behind the wheel of anything anyone would let him drive. This book, published in just the last couple of years, “American Wheelman” by Tom Madigan, covers the life and times of Mr. Follmer, an American legend who was fast in anything on four wheels. Is this book worth putting on your bookshelf?

George Follmer was born in the heart of the American Southwest, Phoenix, AZ, and didn’t take long to get into motorsport. In his earliest competition days, he ran a Volkswagen Beetle in southern California gymkhana events. From there, he’d pretty much run every major series in the world; CanAm, Trans Am, USAC, SCCA Formula A, Formula 5000, NASCAR, IROC, and Le Mans. And he was quick in almost everything he got behind the wheel of. When he was driving for Penske, he won both the CanAm and Trans Am championships in 1972 (Porsche 917/10 and AMC Javelin, respectively), the only driver to ever win both in the same year.
Like the Ludvigesen Corvette book from earlier today, this is not a book for the light of heart. It’s a hefty bugger, and takes up more space than the average laptop. Frankly, for books like this, I wish they would come in two pieces, one a traditional novel-sized paperback that can be read in bed, on the bus, or on the toilet, and a full sized coffee table book that is just the large scale pictures that couldn’t be fit in the smaller book. It would be much easier to read a book like this, but I digress.
Follmer’s history as a racing driver is an interesting one, and it deserved to be immortalized 100%. I’m glad that Tom Madigan took on the job, because this was an excellent and interesting subject. I mean, for the sake of argument, the man came out of retirement to take a podium at Le Mans in a Porsche 956 with SPIRIT OF AMERICA written on the side of it. *Bald Eagle Scream* Now THAT is freedom. *Uncle Sam cries* Happy 4th of July, Mr. Follmer, you’re an American racing hero!
This book can be purchased directly from the publisher (Ed Justice, Jr.) for $59.95. They also offer a special limited-to-300-copies edition with signatures from George, the author, and the publisher, which comes in a special case and is bound in linen for $150. Personally, I’m not sure it’s worth that premium, but perhaps you feel differently. The standard edition is plenty for me. Well worth a read.
Full disclosure: My wife wanted me to read this book, so she paid her own good American dollars for it and gave it to me for my birthday in 2013. I finally got around to reading it this year. It’s good, and I’m glad it has a place on my bookshelf.

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  1. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    I remember reading about him in Road & Track. Back when the USA seemed so far away.
    Now it’s only a 12 hour hop across the Pacific to California.