True Racer- McLaren Movie Review

Just one more lap before lunch. Bruce McLaren, always looking for more from himself and his car, wanted to try a different downforce level.. He left the pits but didn’t return that day in June 1970, ending a meteoric rise from champion driver to successful car builder. A view of the accident scene comes at the end of the documentary, McLaren, a film making sporadic appearances in the United States. I had the good fortune to see it Thursday night.

The film chronicles McLaren’s life in chronological order from his humble beginnings in New Zealand. Bruce knew he wanted to be a race car driver by the time he was 5 years old. When he was nine, he developed Perthes disease, a disease that causes the head of the femur to lose blood flow and die. As a result his left leg was shorter than his right one. McLaren was bedridden for nearly 2 years as doctors tried to strengthen the hip and lengthen his left  leg.  While the hip got stronger, his leg did not get longer. Mclaren walked with a permanent limp.

He went to Europe to drive F2 in 1958 and won his first Formula 1 race the following year, the U.S. GP at Sebring. At the time McLaren was the youngest F1 winner in history, a distinction he held for 44 years. He drove as a teammate to Jack Brabham for Cooper.  Brabham won the World Championship the following year and McLaren finished second.   Both drivers  left Cooper and eventually each built their own Formula 1 cars.

McLaren’s greatest success came in the Can Am series.  In 1969, McLaren-built cars won every race on the Can Am schedule. The three McLaren  cars swept the podium twice that year.  Dennnis Hulme and Mark Donohue were McLaren’s teammates that year.

The movie contains interviews with many racing greats including Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, and Chris Amon. McLaren’s family also appears, lending a personal view of the man. We also hear from several engineers and mechanics, mainly Robin Heard, who came to work for McLaren after helping design the Concorde supersonic airplane.  Many of the airplane’s aerodynamic principles, and some of the same materials, were applied to the cars.

My favorite segments were the vintage racing footage. The race films contain shots of Graham Hill, James Hunt, Jack Brabham, and many other drivers of that era.  We see Le Mans in 1966, Monaco in 1958, Sebring in 1959, and Spa in 1968.  Several things in the films stood out. Grand prix races used to start 3 wide and both F1 and F2  raced at the same time just as sports cars race today. It was great to see the traditional Le Mans start again, with drivers sprinting across the track to their cars. How would that work today?

Several McLaren home movies brought a personal touch to McLaren’s life. He would send film of his European races home and the family and their friends gathered to watch. I also enjoyed the movies of Bruce with his wife and young daughter.

McLaren is one of the best documentaries I have seen on any subject. It is a new, important contribution to preserving racing history. I’m hoping the movie returns in general release. Had there been a second showing last night, I might have stayed for it.  Look for its return, and go see it.

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Book Review- Kiss the Bricks by Tammy Kaehler

Kate Reilly- full time race driver, part time sleuth, hopes for a drama free May as she prepares for her second Indianapolis 500. As usual, drama finds her. She sets fast time on the first day of practice, duplicating the accomplishment of another female driver thirty years ago.  That driver, P.J Rodriguez, died before Pole Day in a mysterious fall from the roof of her downtown hotel. Rodrigueaz’s family asks Kate to help them  find out if her death was  suicide or  murder?

Kiss the Bricks is the fifth book in Tammy Kaehler’s Kate Reilly Racing Mystery series. Usually Reilly drives sports cars, but moves to the Indycar series for this adventure.

The first third of the book alternates between the present day and May of 1987. We learn of the events that lead to P. J.’s death and how Kate gets involved in attempting to find out what happened.  P. J.’s family tells Kate their suspicions and asks for Kate’s help. Her reputation as an amateur sleuth precedes her.

With the help of her grandfather and her PR rep, Kate sets about identifying suspects and motives. They come to the chilling conclusion the culprit may be someone very close to her own race team. The answer becomes clear after the race as activity at the track slowly winds down.

Another complication for Kate is an envelope her grandfather gives her early in the month. He explains it makes clear some family issues that Kate needs to know. He requests she not open it until after the race, so she can focus on the most important event of the year. She resists the temptation to open a few times.

I found this book fun to read. It presents a great look at what a driver’s May is like off the track as well as on it. May seems incredibly busy with media appearances, sponsor meet and greets, and oh yeah, prepping for the 500. I was most impressed by the author’s portrayal of how isolated the drivers are while in the car. Each driver is focused on his/her  car and his/her performance, and only mentions others when they do something that might interfere with the team’s plan.  Drivers rely on their spotters and crew chiefs to know what is happening in the race.

This is only the second Kate Reilly book I’ve read, and I will be reading the others. Kaehler writes great racing stories with a murder mystery thrown in. Her books are available on Amazon.