Interview with Brian G. Boettcher

The Fourth Volume covering the British Invasion era is now available.
Yes, it finally is. This was a more difficult book to write for a number of reasons. First off, there is much more diverse information available to review and evaluate. It is also more tricky because many of the stars "wrote" autobiographies, and legends were buffed a bit.

These years marked the beginning of mass media, Newspapers, magazines, radio and television brought astronauts, stars and celebrities with their managed images into our homes. The era is the beginning of big corporate money flowing into the sport, for better and worse, and internationalization. Car sales were booming, and so was its advertising halo. Tires, additives, accessories, all vying for attention and sales. The country was full of optimism and prosperity.

It was common for the World Driving Champion and the cream of European racing try their hands at Indianapolis beginning really with Jim Clark in '63. Winning the 500-mile race was like being the heavyweight boxing champ. It was a pinnacle achievement, and everyone knew who you were, including mom. These legends, like Jones, Foyt and Andretti, are still common household names a half century later. You can even win a ride in an Indy car with Mario! How about that for longevity? And your spin will be many miles per hour faster than the legends drove in their hey-day. Amazing. And it all springs from the era Volume Four documents.
What is the allure of the Indianapolis 500?
Everyone has their own reasons for their interest in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. When I was a kid, it began hearing Sid Collins and his crew make the race come alive, with the great engine sounds and the electricity of the biggest single crowd at any sporting event. For me, today, it’s the history and the stories the event spins over the years. It’s nearly impossible to pick any one year and come up without a compelling story or two. People are drawn to the drama: Ralph Hepburn and the Novi, Bill Vukovich going for three in a row, or those space age turbines. And the rich cast of characters, some, like Foyt, Parnelli and Andretti, are still household names.
You say it’s the most comprehensive history of the race. How so?
Other books that recount the history of the 500-Mile Sweepstakes focus on the “Month of May” at the Speedway, and miss the larger tapestry of things that drive what happens there that month sometimes for years. Others concentrate on the race itself, which is a narrow slice of the overall story. I tried telling a broader story supplying a larger context. For instance, the race was both an independent spectacle, as well as a part of the National Championship trail. I try to weave that together to provide the entire story. Yes, it’s about the race…and those other things that eventually intersect at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, from circumstances to characters and slices of brilliance…some of which gloriously fail.
What motivated you to write this series?
Well, I didn’t start out to write a book, actually, let alone a series. I was minding my own business, out to find the answer to a question that had nagged me – Why did the 1968 STP turbines both suddenly stop almost simultaneously so close to the finish? I looked at various accounts that mentioned "flame out" but never explained, and then ran across the name of the Canadian Pratt and Whitney engineer who was with the STP team in both ’67 and ’68. We had a very nice phone conversation and he explained what happened, and allowed me a few anecdotes that led to other questions, which led to all sorts of interesting stuff I never knew before. The result was a cascade back from 1968 to 1946, and my eventual decision to write this history because none of this was in a single source. I’ve got two more volumes to go, by the way. The fourth, which covers the Lotus-Ford era, will be published soon.
Describe the research done for this book?
I wish I was a professor somewhere, with a staff of grad assistants. I’m not; just my own part-time staff of one. I started at the Library of Congress reading the various Indianapolis newspaper accounts, then used several online services to collect other newspaper accounts, magazine articles, and other such sources. The Sweepstakes was a huge sporting event that attracted some of the best writers year after year. And many newspapers, especially those in Indiana, assigned a beat reporter through the month. There are, of course, many books available providing incredible information. The process was a bit arduous, following dates and events, using such tools as Google news and other newspaper archives, downloading, reading, indexing, and synthesizing it all into information for a book. I’ve been doing this for about seven years, and still chase down fresh material. There are other great sources out there, like the Sid Collins radio broadcasts, which are excellent for freshly experiencing the “you are there” moments. And, of course, the annual yearbooks published by Floyd Clymer. But you've got to be careful, there's plenty of misinformation, too, written with great authority but with little or no factual basis.
Why write “history”?
The short answer is that I’m not clever enough to write fiction. The honest answer is that reality is better than fiction. The script is written by the odd forces we call life. Who knows what happens next, or where anything will ultimately lead when it happens? There are so many components to a decisive moment, so many things that combined to create the oftentimes unbelievable, you-can’t-make-this-up happening. Just so many consequences. History is something to get excited about, involving far more than dry dates and plain facts. It’s all about interrelationships and their effects. I find it intriguing.
Henry Ford said, “History is bunk.”
Recorded history certainly isn’t necessarily about “the truth.” Winners write the history, and losers are largely stage decoration for the tale of triumph. Historians over time re-interpret and re-assess, and may occasionally discover fresh information. What I found was how protective people are regarding legendary tales. Many first-hand sources provided different interviewers nearly verbatim recountings of an event years apart. Some published ghost written autobiographies. Undoubtedly these guys have a legacy to protect. It becomes the official legend, and it’s difficult to get a fresh look or find fresh facts except in lost of forgotten contemporaneous accounts, which come with their own trapdoors. The best one can hope for is a fair, honest accounting using the best information available.
Which story did you find most interesting?
The story of Zenon “Bud” Bardowski. The guy goes from being a prisoner of war in Japan, witnesses the Hiroshima atomic bomb, returns stateside, regains his health and is mustered out of the Army. He spends his accumulated back pay to buy an iffy race car, and enters himself in the 1946 Indianapolis 500. All in less than a year! This should be made into a motion picture!
Which picture or illustration struck you?
There's a 1909 photo in Volume One of a woman on the track riding her motorcycle that clearly shows the rocky original surface. I never realized just how nasty and jagged the original surface was. As a motorcyclist, I cannot imagine just riding on that surface! It is very clear how the ill-prepared surface led to a rider revolt during its first meet, and to the several deaths when the automobiles first raced. That was a disaster waiting to happen, and it did. Of course, it was all resurfaced with three million bricks!
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I love genealogy. Its a very personal puzzle to solve, and it's very personal history. It also demands great accuracy, and lots of detective work. I'm descended from a long line of ordinary people...but interesting, nonetheless.
Published 2014-10-24.
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Books by This Author

The Indianapolis 500 - Volume Four: British Invasion (1963 – 1966)
Series: The Indianapolis 500 - A History. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 62,860. Language: English. Published: September 6, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Sports & outdoor recreation » Motor sports, Nonfiction » Sports & outdoor recreation » Motor sports
Volume Four: British Invasion (1963 – 1966) tells how Ford Motor Company and Team Lotus joined to conquer the Indianapolis 500, inaugurating the modern era of higher automotive technology supported by corporate money - especially the opening shots of the infamous tire wars between Firestone and Goodyear. Speeds climbed quickly until tragedy struck in turn four in 1964.
The Indianapolis 500 - Volume Three: Watson’s Wonders (1959 – 1962)
Series: The Indianapolis 500 - A History, Book 3. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 43,860. Language: English. Published: March 17, 2013. Categories: Nonfiction » Transportation » Automotive / History, Nonfiction » Transportation » Automotive / History
Volume Three: Watson's Wonders (1959 – 1962) tells the story of the how the racing creations of A.J. Watson came to dominate this era at the Speedway, to then be challenged by the rear engine creations of the Coopers and Mickey Thompson. Each year features an epic "500", with Speedway legends Jim Rathmann, A.J. Foyt and Rodger Ward (twice) the victors.
The Indianapolis 500 - Volume Two: Roadsters, Laydowns and Another World (1954 – 1958)
Series: The Indianapolis 500 - A History, Book 2. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 44,330. Language: English. Published: November 3, 2012. Categories: Nonfiction » Sports & outdoor recreation » Motor sports, Nonfiction » Sports & outdoor recreation » Motor sports
Second of five volumes closely examining the history of the Indianapolis 500 and American National Championship racing from 1946 to 1969. Volume Two: Roadsters, Laydowns and Another World includes the story of Bill Vukovich, USAC's formation, the growing genius of A.J. Watson, the "Race of Two Worlds" at Monza, Italy, plus details of each 500-mile race from 1954 through 1958.
The Indianapolis 500, a History - Volume One: Resurrection and Blue Crowns
Series: The Indianapolis 500 - A History, Book 1. Price: Free! Words: 50,620. Language: English. Published: September 1, 2012. Categories: Nonfiction » Sports & outdoor recreation » Motor sports, Nonfiction » Sports & outdoor recreation » Motor sports
REVISED EDITION - First of five book series examining the history of the Indianapolis 500 from 1946 to 1969. Volume One: Resurrection and Blue Crowns includes the story of the Speedway’s catastrophic opening, its 1945 sale to Tony Hulman, and each race from 1946 through 1953, examining events and people who shaped the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing" and its legend.