Book Review: MotorBinder
The book: MotorBinder
Author: Roy Spencer
Pages: 321, softcover
Purchase: Click here
A sign that reads “Race central” catches my attention. Three ladies sit on lawn chairs at a folding formica card table under a wide umbrella. Behind them, a ’56 Chevy wagon with grid sheets taped to its windows bakes in the warm California sun. A Series 1 Jaguar E-type with wire wheel knock-offs and an Alfa Romeo Giulietta with a large ‘For Sale’ sign on the window are parked off to the left. Some SCCA badges are for sale too and this is where you sign in to “run-what-you-brung” at the Vaca Valley Raceway.
Except this happened some roughly-twenty years before I was born. There are books upon books that feature pages filled with motion-blurred race photography cataloging what seems like every instant of motor racing. MotorBinder by Mr. Roy Spencer is not one of them. Instead it offers an intimate peak at motor racing’s Golden Age, focused on Southern California and chronologically details the evolution from motor-sport to the nascence of motor-business.
It is an anthology of photos shot at local tracks, mostly in California, but in Indianapolis, Nassau, and other famous venues as well, which concentrates on the personalities and action around the track instead of on it. But it’s not a collection of bumpkins ogling stock cars. Legends like Mr. Phil Hill, Carroll Shelby, John von Neumann, Stirling Moss, Roger Penske and Bruce McLaren fill the pages in moments of private conversation, relaxation, and levity beside the track.
Roy had the good fortune to be Mr. Bev Spencer’s son, who himself was very active in the mid-century sports car racing world. Indeed, as a racer, the aforementioned legends were his compatriots and there are even photos snapped by family members of men like Mr. Pedro Rodriguez coming by the Spencer house to pick up a car or just hang out. And the cars, my goodness! GTOs, Birdcages, Z06s, GT40s, Uhlenhaut SLRs, Cobras, Testarossas, Coopers, Lotuses, Fords, Buicks, the list is endless!
But the little details are what really amaze: tools and supplies spread out on a blanket in the dirt beside a Kurtis-Kraft, Mr. David Hobbs eyeing a McLaren Elva Mk1 from his Lola T70, Suixtil race suits, a woman’s bare legs poking out from under a BMC Formula Jr., or Mr. Phil Hill behind the wheel of a Spencer-family Ford T-bucket.
Many of the images contained within the book have never been seen before and were found in two tattered three-ring cloth binders in the archives of the former San Francisco Chronicle motorsports editor, the late Gordon Martin (who also shot many of the photos). If you’re looking for photography of racing action, you won’t be disappointed.
But this tome is so much more than that. It is a privileged look at a world that was wonderfully simple, yet evolving, provided by people who were part of it and cared a great deal for it. MotorBinder is engrossing and marvelous! I could not recommend it more highly.