I’m an admittedly voracious reader, but this is one of the books that actually made me slow down. The center section of the book focuses largely on practice and qualifying, and it’s next to impossible to rush through that section. There’s so much happening: drivers hitting the track and setting unofficial records, team members dealing with their own dramas, bits of history, the complicated weeks-long practice and qualifying structure for the 500—it’s a lot.


I was expecting the book to focus more specifically on Sachs and MacDonald, but Art Garner paints a much larger picture. These are the two men at the forefront of our narrative, yes. But you can’t quite grasp the full story without knowing about Colin Chapman, Dan Gurney, A.J. Foyt, Mickey Thompson, Andy Granatelli, and more. Garner does a damn good job guiding you to an off-shoot of the narrative path you’re on to give you the context you need. But if you’re largely unfamiliar with all of the history here, it can be a lot to take in all at once.

But that doesn’t mean that’s a bad thing. In some ways, Black Noon reminded me of falling down a Wikipedia hole, where you just click through a link to gain the context you need for something you may not have known about before. Garner does it all manually, and to great effect. You learn exactly as much as you need to know to understand. There isn’t a detail in the book that you don’t need to know.


Ultimately, this is a book that requires you to pay attention in order to understand the historical intricacies, but it’s damn good because of that. This is the kind of project any motorsport journalist should be jealous of: it’s informative, well-written, and loaded with the kind of emotion you’d expect from one of Shakespeare’s tragedies. When you hit race day, you’re just overwhelmed with a sense of inevitability. You know what’s going to happen, just like you know what’s going to happen to Hamlet, Macbeth, or Romeo. But the best author will still turn that inevitability into a gut-punch of emotion. Art Garner does just that.

In short, get out there and read this immediately if you haven’t already.

But what did the rest of y’all think? Here’s some insight from Irving Warden:

I found this to be a well-written book, not because it is a stylistic marvel (whatever that is), but because it is good storytelling. Garner manages to pull together many vignettes, episodes, or whatever you want to call them, to tell the story of the 1964 Indy 500 in a manner that is neither uneven nor jerky.

For an ROF (Retired Old Fart) like me, this is a reminder of how much car racing has changed. Eddie Sachs and Dave McDonald are, of course, the tragic heroes of this piece but this book gives a good look at the other people involved in this star-crossed event.

it is impossible to compare racing drivers of different eras, but it seems certain that few races have had a collection of driving talent to match the 1964 Indy 500, including A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney, Jack Brabham, Parnelli Jones, Jim Clark and Bobby Unser, along with many other drivers of slightly less renown outside of USAC racing, like Roger Ward, Lloyd Ruby, Jim Hurtubise, etc.Two past and future World Champions, Graham Hill and Mario Andretti, did not race after passing on an opportunity to drive one of Mickey Thompson’s cars, similar to the one Dave McDonald drove.

The list above is just the drivers. Other luminaries involved in this race in other capacities include Colin Chapman, J.C. Agajanian, Humpy Wheeler, Andy Granatelli, Roger Penske, A.J. Watson, Mickey Thompson, Smokey Yunick, etc.

This was a transition period for Indy cars and there were conventional roadsters, rear-engined cars inspired by Formula racers, and front-engined 4WD Novis with supercharged three-liter V8a on the grid. Smokey Yunick showed up with a “sidecar” design that had the driver seated in a separate “capsule” to the left of the main body of the car containing the drive train, but was not able to qualify for the race.

The dangers of auto racing are, of course, a part of any story about this disastrous race. One of the most interesting points raised in this book is that it came after five straight years without a fatality in the race, which was “...the longest stretch of time in Speedway history without a death in the race...”

The people who participate in motor racing today are as good at driving, designing, building, maintaining, etc., race cars as any who ever lived, but each racing discipline, Indy Car, F1, NASCAR, etc. seems homogenized compared to events of the past like the 1964 Indy 500. Read this book and make your own comparisons, it is much more than just the story of a fiery crash.


And that’s all we have for this month’s Jalopnik Race Car Book Club! Make sure you tune in again on August 23, 2020. We’re going to be reading Driven: A Pioneer for Women in Motorsport by Rosemary Smith. And don’t forget to drop those hot takes (and recommendations) in the comments or at elizablackstock [at] gmail [dot] com!