Why do people care about racing? Why do they get up at 3:00 a.m. to do it? Maybe you have that one friend who’d probably be into it if they knew more about it, or someone else who wonders why you care so much. Here are some gifts you can get to help nudge them into getting up at 3 a.m. with you.
Many of the best stories in racing come from the mouths of the racers themselves. Thing is, it’s hard to explain why you’re so passionate about something when it’s most frequently associated with “Help me, Tom Cruise”-style camp. Don’t get me wrong, I love Talladega Nights, but more because I know to laugh with it, not at it. That being said, it’s probably not the best introduction to motorsports.
So, here are some of the more legendary tales from the real-life world of racing, plus some other cool stuff that demonstrates once and for all that you do need to get up at the butt-crack of dawn on your day off to join me at the track.
The Ford GT was legendary, and if you ever wanted the full story about why we care so much about the new one, you must understand how Ford ended up at Le Mans in the first place.
The original Ford GT was the best project born out of spite. If Ford couldn’t buy Ferrari to go racing, they were going to build their own car and go beat the Europeans on their own home turf: the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Now that both Ferrari and Ford will be competing against each other in the GT classes at Le Mans again, it helps to know the backstory. Matt Hardigree loved Go Like Hell’s telling of it in his review, as the book is rich with detail and context that gets you to care about the main players involved as people, not just nebulous figureheads who run companies and race cars.
After all, racing is nothing if you don’t have a worthy competitor, and it’s that human element that keeps us coming back.
I don’t think there’s a better advertisement for dropping what you’re doing right now and buying a Class 11 Beetle than the film Dust to Glory.
Dust to Glory is Dana Brown’s love letter to the insanity of racing from one end of the Baja Peninsula to the other. People run everything from big-budget trophy trucks to home-prepped creations in the Baja 1000, and there’s truly something for everyone on the entry list every year.
Simply making the finish line of an event long billed as the world’s longest nonstop race is a feat in itself. Between the long hours, booby traps set up by mischevious residents and car-eating terrain, anyone who’s able to finish (much less win) is a my kind of crazy.
No other scene in film nails the tension and agony of waiting for a race to start as well as the opening to Le Mans. Le Mans was Steve McQueen’s pet project, and McQueen’s passion for racing is evident everywhere in this film.
Filmed long before CGI could cheese up a film, this movie used some of the most legendary cars to ever run at Le Mans: Ferrari 512s, Porsche 917s, and even the humble Porsche 914 makes a brief appearance. Parts of the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans made their way into this film thanks to a Porsche 908/2 camera car that was entered in the race itself. It’s the wide variety of cars that makes multi-class endurance racing interesting even today, and this film features 1970’s best.
This is also the perfect film for anyone who bemoans the use of music whenever there’s a lovely engine note to behold. There’s very little music or dialogue. The cars are allowed to speak for themselves.
It’s Le Mans’ race start, though, that I wish I could show to everyone as one of the defining automotive scenes caught on film, if not to show why I’d rather not eat a burrito before hopping into a race car. McQueen’s performance as the hardened Porsche racer is so convincing, you’d swear he set up a film just so he could play himself under a different name.
Mark Donohue was one of the most popular figures in motor racing, and his autobiography is a must-read for any car nut, regardless of whether they’re into racing or not. At its heart, it’s the tale of one very smart dude.
What makes Donohue’s story so special? His background in engineering allowed him to make all sorts of clever tweaks to get even the slightest advantages out of his cars. Donohue raced in the sixties and seventies, when few “cheats” were expressly off the table. An acid-dipped Camaro body with a vinyl roof, for example, was one of Donohue’s most infamous cars.
The Unfair Advantage is the ultimate story of ingenuity and making do on the fly, presented with Donohue’s fantastic sense of humor.
If you’re looking for a good excuse to get into motorsports yourself, a great place to start is the wonderful world of crapcan racing. Crapcan enduros have evolved from the zany 24 Hours of LeMons into numerous series with different levels of wackiness, but one guiding theme: low barriers to entry, with cheap cars, shared costs among teammates and more track time than most people see in a lifetime in one race weekend.
There are so many fantastic stories from crapcan racing that there’s no better introduction to the world’s most accessible form of road racing than this compendium of teams, photos and tales. You’ll find everything from creative ways to go-fast on a budget to bizarre cars that have no place on a road course to a trio of events lovingly dubbed “The Trifecta of Crap.”
Full disclosure: I’m in this book with a write-up of the original Bunnywagen we ran in 2011, as this was a community-sourced project to document crapcan racers’ stories. However, I don’t receive any money from it, and part of the proceeds go to charitable causes.
You can purchase the book’s 320-plus pages of full-color madness here.
It’s hard to make a great motorsports film that adequately captures the complexity of some of its most famous characters. So, Asif Kapadia skipped the actors and heavy-handed narration entirely and put together Senna from archival footage, some of which had never been released to the public.
Senna’s deep faith, love of family and generosity contrasted sharply with the somewhat ruthless persona he cultivated on track, yet you understand his insatiable desire to win because you’re hearing it in his own words, from clips filmed during his life.
Senna isn’t just one of the best racing films–it’s one of the best documentaries, period.
Enough watching. Time for doing. Racing instructor Ross Bentley’s Speed Secrets series has made a name for itself as one of the clearest guides to dropping lap times on a road course out there, so what better introduction to track driving is there than a collection of Bentley’s most useful tips?
This is that compilation. Racing is fun to watch, but way more fun to go out and do yourself. Bentley is an accomplished road racer in his own right, and few authors have his knack for explaining even the most basic concepts of track driving and racing in a way that’s insightful even to longtime drivers.
Once upon a time, long before Jeremy Clarkson was punching anyone in the face, the Stig was dressed all in black and the man behind it was Perry McCarthy—quite possibly the unluckiest dude in Formula One.
McCarthy’s story is as hilarious as he is determined. Despite not coming from a monied background, he wanted to drive in the most expensive series on earth: Formula One. Despite it all, he made it, but his big shot was with Andrea Moda, one of the most famously lousy efforts in F1.
While McCarthy focuses on the intricacies of scrounging a racing career out of nothing, he also has some amusing tidbits about the early days of the Clarkson, Hammond and May-anchored Top Gear and the genesis of The Stig.
Admittedly, we’ve loved this rally documentary since before it was done. It’s the perfect introduction to American rally, some of its most memorable characters, and many of the challenges that affect every team at every level of rallying.
It’s one of the hardest motorsports to spectate, one of the most grueling things you can do with a car, and one of the most difficult forms of racing to find sponsorship for, but if you want to do it, it’s as accessible to beaters as it is to Ken Block, and the community is fantastic. Easier Said Than Done follows everyone from full-factory programs to notable amateurs and even one man trying to make it into the top levels of the World Rally Championship.
You can buy the documentary here.
Even if you don’t have a motorcycle or care about two-wheel anything else, MotoGP is usually worth tuning in to. This season wasn’t decided until the very last race, and the drama off track was almost as enthralling as what happened on track. If you’re looking for a solid introduction to the sport, though, nothing captures why MotoGP fans are so passionate quite like the documentary Faster, which chronicles the 2001 and 2002 seasons.
Everything from the technical innovations at play to the rivalries among the riders gets discussed in this classic documentary. Back then, Valentino Rossi’s main nemesis was Max Biaggi, not Márquez or Lorenzo. Former champions, series insiders and even the track physician are featured in this ultimate look into all things MotoGP.
Bonus: this particular 2-disc version includes the sequel Faster & Faster on the 2003 and 2004 seasons, when bikes became faster and Rossi switched to Yamaha.
Most of the stories on this list are from bygone eras, so in case your gift recipient would rather read something a little more modern, you can’t go wrong with Mark Webber’s latest read.
In Aussie Grit, Webber describes his path to and time in Formula One in amusingly blunt terms. He doesn’t waste any time addressing the infamous “Multi 21” incident from his days at Red Bull, either, where teammate Sebastian Vettel passed Webber for the win despite being instructed not to. That’s right in the title of the prologue.
It’s a fast-paced read and an insightful look into what makes modern F1 tick. While Webber’s never held back any criticism for the sport, you can’t help but sense the wonder and joy he felt about getting there in this account of his own racing history. The book doesn’t stop with F1, though, as Webber now has his sights set on winning Le Mans.
One of the best ways to introduce someone to motorsport is by doing it — even virtually.
I know way too many people who got into racing games before ever hitting the track not to suggest one if you’d like to introduce someone to motorsport. Sure, it’s a video game, but you get to tinker with many of the set-up items that matter (like tires and suspension), try out a bunch of awesome cars and learn your way around a race track.
The Forza vs. Gran Turismo debate will rage on as long as the two competing franchises exist. Forza Motorsport 6 fans swear it’s a bit more true to life, but Gran Turismo 6 still has the neat GT Academy tie-in in case any of you get really, really good at it.
If you’re introducing someone to racing games, pick the one that fits their console and go racing because they’re both fun. (For the record, though, I suck at both. Badly.)
Photo credits: AP Images (Steve McQueen, Mark Donohue, Mark Webber), K Street Studio (How On Fire Are We?), all others Amazon