When the New York Herald Tribune died a few years ago, Reporter Leo Levine, who specialized in automobile racing, slipped into that great journalistic gray area known as "free-lance writing"—which usually means that a good former newspaperman will show up one day wearing a vest and calling himself a public relations man. Thus are many good newsmen lost to the literate world. Leo Levine is an outstanding exception.
He emerges this winter not as a press agent but as an author, with a production called Ford: The Dust and The Glory (The Macmillan Company, New York, $12.50), which is the racing history of America's most famous motoring concern. And he does it with a fine, free-lance vengeance. His book is a big one and weighs just slightly less than a 1969 Mustang.
Projects of this size are risky undertakings even for an experienced author, since buff books are obviously aimed at a select audience to start with. But its high price further limits Dust and Glory to well-heeled buffs. Moreover, this one is not in the display or coffee-table book category since it has much more text than pictures—and the pictures are not outstanding. In fact, they are pretty dull.
Therefore, it is important to point out that here is a publishing rarity, a good book on a highly technical and elusive subject. For all the handicaps, Levine has pulled it off; auto-racing fans will love every chapter but it is the sort of thing that car haters could get caught up in as well.
Happily, there is a great deal of romance involved in the idea of a big company going racing. Ford was not always that big, and the early chapters, where old Henry (himself) was involved, have an exciting story to tell. And who could resist yarns about that crusty bicycle racer, Barney Oldfield, who turned out to be the country's greatest car-racing folk hero?
Oldfield drove anything that would go fast, but he started out with Ford, in the old 999. The saga of his relationship with Ford is all here, including the time when Henry I told Barney, "You made me and I made you." And Oldfield noted that "I did a damn sight better for you than you did for me."
Levine takes the racers right up to modern times, with such new folk heroes as Dan Gurney and A. J. Foyt spewing champagne all over young Henry Ford II after winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans—in one of those cars. And finally, he backs it all up with a complete set of racing records and tables, the first time anyone has ever managed to pull together those statistics.