Imagine: you’re the head of a multi-million dollar company with a legacy to fulfill. You have consumer cars to build, and yet, the allure of the most grueling race in motorsport is calling your name. But that race is dominated by one of the most impressive car making giants to ever walk this Earth—and you know he’s willing to do anything to win. Welcome to the live of Henry Ford II as he stared Enzo Ferrari in the face, determined to come home with a trophy.
(Welcome back to the Jalopnik Race Car Book Club, where we all get together to read books about racing and you send in all your spicy hot takes. This month, we’re looking at Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans by AJ Baime, which is guaranteed to be one of the most interesting books about a racing rivalry that you’ll ever have the pleasure of reading.)
This is, arguably, one of the best books you could read about racing that feels more like a thriller novel than a nonfiction book. Baime has a talent for weaving fact into such a beautiful tapestry that it almost feels like you’re reading a carefully crafted fiction novel—which, I gotta say, is a pretty impressive feat. A lot of racing books can be pretty dry and read more like a chemistry textbook just reciting facts.
Not here. Hell no.
Folks, I read this book in a single day. This is not a testament to my speed-reading abilities; it’s a glowing compliment to Go Like Hell for being so exciting that I never wanted to put the book down.
The chapters here alternate between Ford and Ferrari, starting in 1960 so that you can get a sense of where both companies were at before they dived right into the battle for dominance at the most iconic race of all time. Baime sets you so firmly in the era that you just want to light up a cigarette, slick back your hair, and pour out a stiff drink before you settle in for the ride.
One of the big things I found most interesting about this book was the marketing angle. Today, vehicles built for racing and those built for consumers are so incredibly different that a Ferrari winning anything doesn’t necessarily mean anyone is going to go out of their way to buy one. In the 60s, though, that was so different. Le Mans was one hell of a race, yeah, but more than that it was one hell of a way to sell cars.
Reading about how much money and manpower Ford was funneling into their racing program just to be competitive blew my mind. I mean, yeah, racing has never been a particularly cheap endeavor, but I feel like I’d have given up after two or three miserable years. But that’s why I’m not a Le Mans winner.
Baime doesn’t pit Henry Ford II against Enzo Ferrari. Neither is painted as wholly good or wholly bad, which is kind of refreshing. Each man heading each company had entirely different things to offer, and both were hell bent on coming home with a trophy at the end of twenty-four grueling hours.
You really get a whole picture of them as human beings, not just as mysterious heads of legacy companies. They lose children and have affairs, they each have their own political motivations, and they both just love cars. It can be hard to write a rivalry story that doesn’t paint someone as the ‘bad guy’—especially here, since this is basically a story of Ford’s triumph—but in Go Like Hell, you get the sense that these men are two legends duking it out on an equal playing field instead of an underdog taking down the tyrannical giant.
Go Like Hell has the perfect blend of mechanical details and story lines to appeal to everyone. You don’t have to know about cars to like reading it—but if you do, then you’re getting plenty of juicy details about the technology being developed at the time alongside a history of events you might not have heard before.
Honestly, folks. I can’t find a single bad thing to say about this bad boy. It’s not easy to find that perfect balance of plot and history, and somehow Baime does it so well that he makes it look like a breeze. If you haven’t already, crack this book open—and then hand it off to everyone else in your life. Trust me, you’re going to want to.
And that’s all we have for this month’s Jalopnik Race Car Book Club! Make sure you tune in again on October 6! We’re going to be reading The Limit: Life and Death on the 1961 Grand Prix Circuit by Michael Cannell, a book that has been highly requested (and that I’ve been dying to read for years). And don’t forget to drop those hot takes in the comments or at ewerth [at] jalopnik [dot] com!