The Silver Speedster Is The Latest Awesome Car Book For Kids
A few years ago, frustrated that there was a distinct lack of car books in the marketplace that he and his young son could enjoy together, accomplished designer Dwight T. Knowlton decided to turn into an author. He should be familiar to Petrolicious readers already thanks to his two special books he’s already illustrated and released: The Little Red Racing Car, and The Greatest Race.
Both were embraced by the book reading public with boisterous enthusiasm, and I agree, too: Knowlton’s illustrations are crisp, colorful, and above all charming, with a vibe reminiscent of a vintage racing poster. The writing is excellent, and should fire up a child’s interest in automotive history.
The Little Red Racing Car would go on to garner several awards and accolades including two International Automotive Media Awards, and a 2014 American Graphic Design Award, as well as foster a subsequent collaboration with Sir Stirling Moss. During the writing process of his first book, Knowlton reached out to the fabled racecar driver to tell him of his plans. To the would-be author’s surprise, Moss sparked to the idea and lent his name to the story. The author’s follow-up book, The Greatest Race, is the true story of Moss’ record-breaking drive of the 1955 Mille Miglia with navigator Denis Jenkinson in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR. To this day, it is still considered one of the greatest racing achievements in history, and one assuredly not to be broken.
Today, Knowlton is working on The Silver Speedster, his third book and one that he’s created specifically for fathers and daughters this time around. Petrolicious had the opportunity to speak to the author about writing, illustrating, publishing, and what’s next.
Benjamin Shahrabani: Hi Dwight, can you give me a synopsis of the storyline of The Silver Speedster?
Dwight T. Knowlton: It’s set in the late 1950s, right at the beginning of Porsche’s cult status in the USA and at the beginning of sportscar racing, really. It begins with a father and daughter flying to New York City to pick up their new Porsche 356 Speedster from Max Hoffman’s iconic dealership. While there, they have a chance meeting with racing pioneer Denise McCluggage, then they break in the new Speedster on their return trip to California via Route 66. Once home, they work together to prepare the car and take it racing at then-new venues like Riverside International Raceway and at Laguna Seca.
BS: What was the inspiration for this storyline? Who is the audience?
DK: The inspiration is the combined goodness of some of the best elements of sports car racing in the ’50s. The other inspiration is my daughter. The audience should be all car-loving families, sons included. Just like my father-son story The Little Red Racing Car was not about mustaches or bareknuckle fighting – this father-daughter story will not be about tiaras or tea parties. These are automotive stories, family stories, so everyone should be able to enjoy it—boys included—even 80 year old boys.
BS: Why did you pick this particular model, the Porsche Speedster?
DK: The 356 is one of my very favorite cars. From the moment that I saw my first one, I was in love. And from the moment that I knew I was doing a silver German car, I knew it had to either be the Speedster or the 550, another favorite. Ultimately, the Speedster is just such a perfect fit for this story. In searching the 50s archival photos, there are shots of eleven cars taking a turn on one of these early tracks, and all eleven are 356s!
BS: What kind of research have you done for writing and illustrating this book?
DK: I always go far beyond what’s necessary for a 48 page ‘children’s’ book. I’ve purchased entire years of 1950s sports car magazines, Autosport, Motor Sport, Auto Speed & Sport, Sports Cars Illustrated…stacks of 1950s books on sports car racing, driving techniques, tuning, etc.. Even old 1950s LPs of sports car sounds. I’ve dug deep on Max Hoffman and Denise McCluggage—in fact, I’m so fired up on the Max Hoffman trail that I’m considering writing my first “grown up” book on him. I’ve spent hours searching the archives of The Revs Institute, looking at photographs of sports car racing in late ’50s, and specifically in California. Laguna Seca looked a lot different at two years old than it does now. So I’m looking at details right down to where there were trees and what kinds of cones, bales and barricades there were. My cover art alone has the combined reference of nearly a dozen period photographs of the corkscrew at Laguna Seca.
BS: What have you learnt since writing your first two books?
DK: I’ve learned a lot about the process. I’ve learned that when you’re new to something you tend to underestimate how long things will take—how hard it will be. Having done both historical fiction and nonfiction now, I think I have sort of a process for each and understand their unique challenges. I’ve learned that what can go wrong often will. And I’ve learned a few things about how to get through those challenges. I’ve also gotten a clearer view of what is and isn’t important to me. And more than anything, what’s become important to me is doing what I think is meaningful work.
BS: What’s changed for you since launching your first book in 2013?
DK: The biggest thing is the friendships and meaningful connections. I mean, I never imagined myself sitting down for a beer with Sir Stirling in his house. He was someone that I read about in books… I’ve made a lot of new friends all over the world.
Another is the meaning that I derive from my work. I’d spent more than a decade as a senior designer and creative director before doing this. I’ve worked on numerous projects and campaigns for Fortune 500 companies. It’s very fulfilling now to be in total control of my work and have the final say. Also, when I began, I was working out of my home office. I did everything myself. Now I’m in a 1,000 square foot retail location, adding new vintage automotive inspired t-shirts and products every month or two and I have help for shipping, administration and inventory work.
BS: Getting ahead of ourselves just a little, have you thought about what car you might feature next?
DK: From the moment I began The Little Red Racing Car, I knew I’d be doing a car from each of the big racing countries. As you know, in the early years of international racing every country had a color so the cars were easily identifiable on the track. So I’ve done red (Italian), and this will be two now for silver (German) since I tucked in The Greatest Race with Sir Stirling. I have green (British), blue (French), and whatever I choose for the USA left to do. I keep thinking that a green Jag is coming next, but I’m not 100% sure. I very nearly did the story of Ford’s 1, 2, 3 win in 1966 with the Ford GT, but am now thinking that I might do a Hot Rod or Muscle Car story for the USA. I have stacks of ideas for other genres that deserve their own books, too. A VW story, a vintage 4×4 story (like a pre-1966 Land Rover Defender), a vintage motorcycle story (BMW, Triumph, Ducati, Matchless?)… there are so many worthy muses!
BS: What message do you hope to convey to readers?
DK: I hope that I can instill a love of these vintage sports cars in a new generation and also take the adult readers back in time. I try to do that both with the story AND with my illustrations and design. When I’m doing research for these books, I am reading contemporary reviews of the “new” 1957 Porsche Speedster. I’m reading about the “just opened” Lime Rock Park, and “the inaugural race” at Riverside Raceway. I try to represent it as contemporary, in a style that’s fitting to the subject matter. I think that’s why adult readers connect with my books too. I completely over-research and then I live there in my head while I create the story and pictures.
BS: Lastly, anything in particular you want Petrolicious readers to know?
DK: I think there’s a shortage of books like these. I started creating because them I couldn’t find one. And I want for this passion that we share for these cars to continue. I have no shortage of ideas or subject matter, and I’d like to keep making these books for a lifetime. So if you want the books that come after this (Jaguar, Bugatti, Carrera Panamericana, Targa Florio, Hot Rods, Muscle Cars, whatever they will be…) you have to buy this book first. As an independent, this book selling is what equips me to make the next.
While he does have some help these days to keep things running smoothly at CarpeGear.com, Knowlton has once again turned to Kickstarter to get him over the hump. Assuming the campaign is successful, Knowlton plans to lock himself away for a few months and have the book shipping in plenty of time for the holidays. So if you like the idea behind The Silver Speedster—and we certainly do—consider supporting Knowlton and his worthy project before the end of this month—early backers can get their choice of several exclusive rewards.
Thanks to Dwight for taking the time to answer some questions. His books and merchandise can be found at CarpeGear.com, where the car-loving family can purchase an ever expanding line of automotive gear all lovingly designed and created by Knowlton.