There are a lot of books on racecar driving. Some of the most important ones were written years ago and have not been converted to electronic formats. On the plus side, that means you can sometimes pick them up used for a few dollars. I prefer the electronic ones for reading on the plane, but nothing beats turning pages with your hands.
- Optimum Drive by Paul F. Gerrard is one of my favorite books, and is the only one available as an audiobook, which is how I read it. At under 4 hours, it’s not a long book. It’s so thoughtful that you should to stop and think about each chapter before moving on to the next. While it offers some instruction on the technique of driving, it’s sort of like The Inner Game of Tennis, in that its lessons transcend a specific sport.
- Ultimate Speed Secrets by Ross Bentley is one of the best books on driving. He takes a very thoughtful, logical, and practical approach to driving. The writing is simple, direct, and easily digested. Yet the content is deep and you will find something to appreciate every time you re-read it. The Ultimate book collects most of what are in his other books. Ross is very active in driver education, and I highly recommend subscribing to his weekly newsletter and YouTube channel. Also, if you get a chance, attend one of his seminars or webinars. He’s a good speaker.
- Driving to Win by Carroll Smith is brutally frank about the demands of racing, and to those not up to the task, he often employs the phrase other sports beckon. This short phrase is an indication of his personality, which may endear him to some readers and turn off others. In addition to all the tips on driving, there’s a lot of information about what it takes to become a professional, which is not all that informative for the amateur racer except that it reinforces you to keep your day job.
- Going Faster! Mastering the Art of Race Driving by Carl Lopez from the Skip Barber Racing School is the racing bible for many people. It’s comprehensive, up-to-date, and well written, but lacks some of the personality of the two books above. If you’re serious about driving, it belongs on your bookshelf.
- The Technique of Motor Racing by Piero Taruffi is considered to be the first racing book aimed at training new drivers. It is therefore a true classic and belongs in any collection. I wasn’t expecting a book published in 1958 to have so much technical and mathematical detail. The driving style at the time didn’t teach trail-braking as we know it now, but Figure 45 shows that cornering hasn’t changed all that much in 70+ years.
- The Ace Factor: a guide to what you need to know about vintage racing by E. Paul Dickinson, is 65 pages of wonderfully succinct instruction. It’s nearly the perfect beginner’s guide to auto racing (there’s only a few sentences about vintage racing). It’s included free with some vintage racing membership packages and still in print.
- Winning: a Race Driver’s Handbook by George A. Anderson is a comprehensive guide for club and autocross racers. It’s sort of like the unabridged version of The Ace Factor for SCCA drivers. At about $5 used, it’s a great bargain.
- Competition Driving by Alain Prost and Pierre-Francois Rousselot explains the basics well and has some excellent advice from Prost sprinkled throughout. It’s not many pages, and the color photos, glossy paper, fonts, and layout give it the appearance it was designed for children. But it’s a serious book, a good read, and can be found used for the price of a sandwich.
- Driving in Competition by Alan Johnson is famous because it introduced the 3 kinds of corners: slow-in-fast-out, fast-in-slow-out, and compromises. While interesting from a historical perspective, it’s a little dated and wordy for my tastes.
- Race to Win by Derek Daly has a lot of practical advice for the aspiring professional driver. Unlike most books on driving, this one has almost nothing to do with driving. Instead, it focuses on the support structure around the driver, which may be even more critical to success than the driver or car. Auto racing is such an expensive and stressful sport that the team around the driver has an unusually important role. The content transcends auto racing to all walks of life and could equally well be a book on proper parenting.
- The Racing Driver by Denis Jenkinson is an interesting piece of racing history. Jenkinson was one of the most successful passengers in motorsport both in cars and sidecars. He may be most famous for codifying the tenths system. Interestingly, he has been misinterpreted by almost everyone. He suggested that most racing was performed at 8 tenths. 9.5 tenths was something that happened occasionally during a race, but every moment at 10 tenths was a disaster waiting to happen.
- The Front-Wheel Driving High-Performance Advantage by Jack Doo is one of the few books that describes the driving techniques and setups specific for FWD cars. There are chapters on road, autocross, rally, ice, and drag racing. Each chapter captures the thoughts of very successful drivers while Doo provides the glue within and between chapters. Here’s the short version: 62/38, trail-brake, modulate throttle.
Racing by the numbers
Everything a car does is bounded by the laws of physics. Auto racing is really a form of applied math. Understanding that foundation is surprisingly entertaining.
- Think Fast: the Racer’s Why-To Guide to Winning by Neil Roberts blends very practical advice with theoretical considerations. Even though it is written by an engineer, the author recognizes that there’s more tuning in the driver than the car. I wish I had read this much earlier. Highly recommended.
- The Physics of Racing by Brian Beckman is a series of articles written over more than 10 years that uses back of the envelope calculations to introduce and solve various aspects of racecar driving and engineering. This series is an excellent introduction to the math behind speed. You can find the series at several sites. Here’s one http://phors.locost7.info/contents.htm
- Fast Car Physics by Chuck Edmonson is less approachable than The Physics of Racing, but has much greater depth. If you’re an engineer who wants all the details, this is your book.
- Drive Faster: Data Logger Secrets Revealed by Daniel Johns is written from the perspective of a team owner trying to get the most from their drivers. It covers the basics of telemetry analysis, but doesn’t do a particularly good job. Not recommended.
The “How To” page on this blog justifies some of the reasons for simulation racing. You can find a lot of great advice online and also some misinformation (of course). For a more organized approach, you might try one of these books. All are available electronically.
- Going Nowhere Fast In Assetto Corsa: Race Driving On A Simulator by Amen Zwa is a comprehensive guide to simracing from hardware to software to user. It focuses on Assetto Corsa, which was released in late 2014. If you’ve never done any simracing, Assetto Corsa is probably as good a place to start as any. It’s available through Steam for a one-time fee and there is an active modding community creating new content.
- The Becoming an Alien series by iRacer X includes titles on Unlocking the Secret of Speed, Mastering the Art of Braking, Learning to Drift (and Going Faster), and How to Overtake, Defend, and Win. These are short Kindle books at $0.99 each and while they are targeted at the iRacing simulation community, I find that the content applies to real driving.
- SimRacing, Découverte & Progression by Alain Lefebvre has a lot of great information about simulation racing. It’s written en Français which may be a plus or minus to you (a fun challenge for me).
Biography, History, and Such
- The Unfair Advantage by Mark Donohue documents Mark’s journey from amateur to professional road racer and engineer. Who knew that they had no idea what they were doing back in the glory days? If you’re interested in the history of American auto racing in the 60s and 70s, this is essential reading. But if you’re looking for something with a story or about driving technique, this isn’t for you.
- Go Like Hell, by A. J. Baine chronicles the development of the Ford GT-40 in the late 1960s. Ford was in serious negotiations to take over Ferrarri, but it turned out to be a ruse. To get even, they built one of the most iconic cars ever produced and dominated Le Mans for a couple years. It’s entertaining enough, but there’s very little about driving.
- All But My Life, by Stirling Moss and Ken W. Purdy isn’t nearly as interesting as I was hoping it would be. I’ve started it several times but don’t make it very far. Sort of like the old MR2…
- Motor Oil for a Car Guy’s Soul by Kevin Clemens is a collection of essays on a wide range of topics. It’s more entertaining than informative.
- Plays With Cars, by Doug DeMuro is another fun collection of automotive culture stories. Nothing about driving here.