by Russell Jaslow
Tales from the Toolbox
by Michael Oliver
ISBN: 978-1-84584-199-7. List Price: $24.95.
What does every race fan love to do? Sit around a bar swapping racing stories. Even better -- sit around a bar with those involved in racing, swapping stories. Top that? Sit around a bar with those involved in Formula 1 in days gone by, swapping stories. Not necessarily the big shots who may still have agendas to protect or false reputations to guard. Get the mechanics, the ones who really know the scoop of what when on, buy them a drink (or two or three), then sit back and enjoy.
Tales of the Toolbox is like a virtual bar where you are listening to Formula 1 mechanics tell their stories. A bar you will stay past last call to listen to every recollection from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s when racing was simpler, seemingly more fun, and definitely more intimate.
The author, Michael Oliver, interviewed many mechanics of that era. He does a wonderful job playing "narrator," organizing, setting the stage, introducing, and transitioning the stories without ever allowing himself to take center stage. When one considers how much raw material he must have collected, Oliver has performed a yeoman's effort narrowing all he had into a presentable book.
The stories range from the headaches and adventures traveling to and from the races, greasing the palms of customs agents, the all-nighters, dealing with brilliant but eccentric designers and owners, handling the egos and tempers of drivers, the pranks and practical jokes, and overcoming tragedy in the most dangerous era of grand prix racing.
One particular story that jumped out at me is how hard Colin Chapman worked his crew -- impossible long to-do lists, horrible hours, and constant all-nighters. With all the criticism laid on Chapman's tendency to build fragile cars (collaborated by the mechanics, yet staunchly defended by them), one wonders how much of a role overworking his mechanics, no matter how good they were, had on cars constantly breaking down.
The photos, many of which come from the mechanics' personal collections, are not only priceless, but properly capture the moments and tales told by the crew members.
The one drawback is all the mechanics worked for English teams. I would have loved to have heard from former Ferrari mechanics to provide us an insight into the inner workings of Maranello.
There are other books written by mechanics. Steve Matchett's The Mechanic's Tale: Life in the Pit-Lanes of Formula One and Dick Salmon's BRM - A Mechanic's Tale are two excellent examples. However, Tales of the Toolbox is more like a collection of old friends bench racing at the proverbial bar, laughing and hoisting drinks to the bygone days and friends no longer with us. It's like being let into a secret society that very few get to be a part of.
A friend once told me life is all about the stories one accumulates. These guys have accumulated quite the collection. As Tony Cleverly, a former Rob Walker mechanic, said, "When I think about that life, there's nothing I would change."
This book is a must for all racing fans.
[Tales of the Toolbox is a project for the Grand Prix Mechanics Charitable Trust (founded by Sir Jackie Stewart, who wrote the forward), and 40% of all royalties goes to the fund.]
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