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For Gold and Glory: Charlie Wiggins and the African-American Racing Car Circuit.

by Todd Gould Indiana University Press, February 2003 $27.95, ISBN 0-253-34133-7

This intricately detailed book, a companion to a forthcoming PBS documentary, chronicles the life and career of race-car driver Charlie Wiggins, who, although ostracized from the esteemed Indy 500 races because of his ethnicity in the 1920s and '30s, still managed to become one of the best racers in America.

Author Todd Gould has a remarkable eye for detail and a good ear for pace and tone, which happily, make the book read more like a novel than a sleepy textbook. Gould forges a sense of camaraderie between the race-car driver and the reader, encouraging us to root for Wiggins in his exploits and grieve with him when he meets loss and discrimination. Gould's journalistic approach includes quotes from relevant sources and mounds of facts. The text is fast, with a chipper pace that makes reading this book like being one of a thousand fans in the bleachers cheering as the green flag signals the start of an electrifying journey.

What's perhaps most intriguing about the book is its refreshing subject matter. Most of us remain unaware, for example, that a Colored Speedway Association and its annual Gold and Glory competition even existed. Before Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis or Jesse Owens were shattering color lines in professional sports, blacks were participating--and even breaking records--in race-car driving.

For Gold and Glory tells Wiggins's inspiring life story of success and defeat--of growing up in Evansville, Indiana, a town boiling with race-hate; of raising his siblings after his parents die; and of his unparalleled obsession with automobiles that earns him a good wage as a mechanic. He could diagnose a car's problems just by listening to its cough or sputter. At 17 he marries a fetching 22-year-old model, but his three children die in infancy. Wiggins flees Evansville for Indianapolis's bustling black metropolis, and becomes the city's finest mechanic, black or white. A year later he builds his own race car using junkyard materials, and in time he's creating cars with secret nuances to make him unbeatable on the track.

The book is a collage of fascinating facts about Wiggins's life. Along the way, he befriends infamous roughneck John Dillinger, has run-ins with the KKK and loses a leg. Juicy historical tidbits not only put his life in perspective, but also seemingly warp us back into an era of flappers, bootleggers, jazz and networks of black entrepreneurs exhibiting exemplary determination and talent. Gold and Glory is an exciting ride about an American legend, a book that almost turns an ordinary man into a superhero.

--Malcolm Venable is a New York journalist who recently completed a fellowship with City Limits magazine and is working on two pieces of fiction.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Cox, Matthews & Associates
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Venable, Malcolm
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 2003
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