Plenty of folks have emailed me to let me know that I desperately need to read The Stainless Steel Carrot: An Auto Racing Odyssey by Sylvia Wilkinson, and I haven’t been able to disagree. I did need to read it. But this week, after having sat down to demolish the whole thing in a matter of days, I have to say: racing was way crazier back in the 1960 and 1970s than I could have ever imagined.
The great thing about this book is the fact that it was written and published in the era it’s discussing, which means you actually get a sense of what racing was really like in the early 1970s. Books written by folks who didn’t live through the era necessarily miss some of those smaller details about the culture, and books written by folks who did live through the era but are speaking in retrospect often come with a hefty helping of rose-colored glasses. It’s great to have a book that actually really gets into the times.
And because of that, it includes some of the wildest stories I’ve ever heard, both in terms of fan behavior and on-track chaos. Like, yes, I’d heard tales of fans lighting cars on fire in the Watkins Glen International campgrounds, but I wasn’t aware of all the tomfoolery that took place.
So, while there will definitely be a full review of this book coming tomorrow, I thought The Stainless Steel Carrot deserved a post just for the nonsense, such as:
- Every driver’s lap times slowed considerably at Mosport for an unknown reason… until the folks in the pits got word that everyone was watching a couple have sex trackside during the race.
- A fan tried to drive his station wagon through a puddle at Watkins Glen and realized it was too deep to drive through. So, he abandoned the car. Then he came back with a can of gasoline and lit it on fire, saying he never liked the car anyway.
- Then, another fella came along and peed in the charred gas tank.
- A driver was killed at the Glen 500 and, apparently, fans took pieces of his body as souvenirs before the ambulance could get there.
- Ditch jumping in shitty cars was a frequent hobby.
- People racing their cars in the campsite would just run over people sleeping on the ground.
- Fans peed on hay bales, stacked them against the bathrooms, and lit them on fire—which was apparently better than the year fans dynamited the hay bales stacked up by the bathroom.
- George Boskoff reportedly knew a driver who lost his legs when his flywheel blew apart. Boskoff found out when he drove by a severed leg on the track.
I knew that racing culture was wild in the 1960s and 1970s, but I was not aware how many specifically absurd stories were lost in the annals of time