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Original Issue

A dictionary of racing terms for all of those who are tired of being nerds

A hypothetical letter from one hot rodder to another might read something like this: "On our way to the championship trail in our springy thingy, hoping to eyeball a few haulers cut a fat one, we got mixed up with a squirrel in a porridge pot behind the wheel of a lead-sled who dropped the hammer, shut the gate, then fishtailed, going into a gilhooley that made us really hang it out and finally get off it altogether." (Translation: On the way to a USAC event in our dragster, hoping to examine a few top-performing cars, we got mixed up with a bad driver in a crash helmet behind the wheel of an excessively heavy custom car who engaged the clutch suddenly and violently, cut in front of us, lost control of the rear end and went into a spin that made us deliberately slide through a corner and finally stop.)

If you understand every word of the original, you probably do not need John Lawlor's new book, How to Talk Car (distributed by Dodd, Mead & Co., $4). If, on the other hand, you are still a weekend warrior, a flyboy, or a Joe Log Bolt (one who competes in drag racing only on weekends), or if, as an interested spectator, you have trouble following the lingo at the track, you probably are a nerd (one not in the know) and need to spend a profitable hour with Mr. Lawlor's dictionary of racing terms. Would you approach the refreshment stand (the oasis, that is) and ask for a hot dog instead of a tube steak? You're a nerd. Any track regular knows that a hot dog refers only to a top-performing driver, like, say, Arnie Beswick. Parents who overhear their teen-age sons discussing pot or the CID will be relieved to learn that their offspring are neither smoking marijuana nor getting involved with Scotland Yard's Criminal Investigation Department—they're talking about carburetors or cubic-inch displacement.

Author Lawlor, a young journalist with a zest for both cars and the English (?) language, writes with a humor and authority that are often lacking in books described as technical. Henry Gregor Felsen, who provided a foreword to the book, calls sports-car terminology the "most exciting and lively language." He might have added "irreverent," for Dad's big luxury Cadillac or Imperial is known as a hog and Mom may be surprised to know that she does her family driving chores in a sewing machine (Volkswagen). So get the book, if you want to broaden your vocabulary, but don't become a motor mouth. No translation of that needed, I hope.