This review is the first of a series covering notable books on driving technique [It may also cover books on other subjects, but we're going to start with driving technique.] As a general rule, this column will cover books that are currently in print (no matter how old or new they are), or books that are so important that they are worth seeking out wherever you can find them.
First published in English in 1959
Reprint by Robert Bentley, Inc., Cambridge Masschusetts, USA
Bentley Stock # X228
Our first book is a classic, out of print for a long time, but brought back in hardcover by Robert Bentley (best known for their shop manuals and technical books) several years ago. The Technique of Motor Racing is a book of considerable significance. It is a period piece which gives a good idea of how much motorsports has changed since the book first appeared in english in 1959, and at the same time gives us a good picture of the development of modern approaches to competition driving skills.
The early chapters are charming, but also more than a little frightening, especially to a tech inspector like me. "Half" helmets made of flimsy materials are the rule (Those radical americans who drive Champ Cars at Indy have just started to adapt helmets made of modern materials with full coverage of the head.) Seat belts are another item where the americans are ahead of the european crowd; the Indy car drivers have started using aircraft harnesses, which the europeans consider more than a little unusual. Taruffi gives advice about bracing oneself in the cockpit with ones legs, and warns not to use the wheel for support, as it messes up the driving.
Some things are eternal, though, and on page 11, Taruffi lists "A good bank balance" as a prerequisite for a race driver.
What is important about this book is not the glimpse of old safety standards and the lack thereof, but something else entirely. Taruffi was a good driver, not a driver who we talk about today in the same reverent terms as Fangio, Ascari, and Moss, but he was probably only one rung down the ladder from that group, having won a couple of F1 races and having finished second to Fangio on more than one occasion. Taruffi was one of a number of motorcycle racers who moved up to 4 wheel racing with a fair amount of success, a tradition that continues to this day.
Taruffi was one more thing though, which is why this book is a distinguished one -- Taruffi was a competent professional engineer. In this book, we find the beginnings of a coherent theory to support the notion of a "fast line" around a race track. We are seeing only the beginnings, but Taruffi made a strong start. He failed to make the leap that Alan Johnson made only a few years later in Driving in Competition; it took Johnson to devise the theory of Type 1, 2, and 3 corners, but you can see the beginnings of the theory here. You will also be struck by the explanatory pictures showing all the undistinguished F1 drivers who didn't really know where the line was back then, as well as the advice on running races such as the Mille Miglia and Targa Floria, running as they did for long stretches of unfamiliar roads, all crowned of course, because they were public highways.
In summary, this is really a pretty neat book; if you want to know where all the driving theory they teach in professional driving schools comes from, this is a good place to start.