These books can help you become better behind the wheel, better at building cars or entertain you in the offseason.
With so much time between events, there is plenty of time to read up on the subject that interests you most: racing, driving and prepping racecars. Of course, you should spend as much time with Speed News as you can, but we’ve learned that racing often produces a voracious appetite for the subject matter.
The good news is that people have been writing books on the subject for decades, and we now enjoy a wealth of books on racing, many with highly specialized areas of focus.
We reached out to all the NASA Regional Directors and some fast NASA members from all over the country, and asked them to provide some of their favorite titles, and then explain why they liked it. As mentioned in the headline, some will make you a better driver. Some will make you a better mechanic and some are simply for entertainment, something to read on a rainy afternoon with a glass of whatever you like.
Reading is a good way to make your downtime productive. So, on your next trip or train ride, take one of these with you and learn a thing or two. — BB
“The Racing and High Performance Tire: Using Tires to Tune for Grip and Balance” by Paul Haney
This is the book on tires by Paul Haney. — Bryan Cohn, NASA Technical Director of Competition
“New Directions in Race Car Aerodynamics: Designing for Speed” by Joesph Katz
This is the book that taught me how to make winged open-wheel cars and sports racers work. — Bryan Cohn, NASA Technical Director of Competition
“Tales from the Toolbox: A Collection of Behind-the-Scenes Tales from Grand Prix Mechanics” by Michael Oliver, Foreword by Jackie Stewart
It’s a great read about being an F1 mechanic in the 60s and 70s, before open borders, using old lorries, changing currency at every border, bribing border guards, great fixes, the lot. A hilarious, fun and engaging read. — Bryan Cohn, NASA Technical Director of Competition
“Making It Faster: Tales From the Endless Search for Speed” by Dan Binks and Norm DeWitt
Dan taught me to read rulebooks for what they don’t say. This book taught me tricks about aero that I use to this day and so much more. A fun and interesting read. -Bryan Cohn, NASA Technical Director of Competition
“Stealing Speed The Biggest Spy Scandal in Motorsports History” by Mat Oxley
This is the best book I have ever read that has to do with racing.
No, it’s not the McLaren/Ferrari mess from a few years back. It’s about how Japan’s biggest motorcycle manufacturer stole the Nazis’ engineering secrets from behind the Iron Curtain. It’s one of those books you cannot put down! Written by Max Otley, TT winner of the Isle of Man — certifiable crazy right there — this book is better than “Crashed and Byrned” by Tommy Byrne, and that is one of my top five. Get this book, pour a glass of whiskey or coffee and sit back for a wonderful afternoon of reading. — Bryan Cohn, NASA Technical Director of Competition
“Driving in Competition” by Alan Johnson
This book is the first to identify corners by type, 1, 2 and 3, and from there how to read a track for maximizing speed gains. I use this method of driving to this day. When I have friends who are looking for a good first book on how to drive, I give them this. I buy them in lots from Amazon to have on hand for just this purpose. — Bryan Cohn, NASA Technical Director of Competition
“The Technique of Motor Racing” by Piero Taruffi
This is the first serious book that taught drivers how to drive racing cars. — Bryan Cohn, NASA Technical Director of Competition
The Wynn and Lonny Racing Series of books by “Eric Speed” by Sylvia Wilkinson and Bill Fishburn
I received this set of book as a 11-year-old. They are a great series for kids who are interested in the sport, but need a good story at the same time. The racing, engineering and mechanical side is realistic because Wilkinson already had written “Stainless Steel Carrot” by this time and Fishburn was a leading amateur racer and, at the time, an associate editor at Car and Driver. — Bryan Cohn, NASA Technical Director of Competition
“Going Faster! Mastering the Art of Race Driving” by Carl Lopez for the Skip Barber Racing School
I found “Going Faster” to be one of the most in-depth books on the reasons why a certain line was mathematically quicker and also proved why giving up some radius/speed in some corners when they connect with others makes sense to net you quicker times for that section or lap. — Tage Evanson, NASA Arizona Regional Director
“Performance Fuel Injection Systems” by Matt Cramer and Jerry Hoffmann
If you are interested in taking the plunge and opening up your modern engine to all possibilities, then this is a great book to get you started. Standalone engine management is not for the faint of heart. I liken it to “jail-breaking” your car. You now have full control of everything, and special settings like launch control and anti-lag are a checkbox away. This book will get you ready for the real test: when your racecar hasn’t been started in two months and it’s 40 degrees outside. That’s when you know that your base, idle and fuel maps aren’t going to leave you stranded with an expensive science experiment, and all your hard work in tuning and at the dyno has paid off. — Kristopher Marciniak, NASA Rally Sport West Regional Director
“Data Power: Using Racecar Data Acquisition” by Buddy Fey
This book was written in 1993, but the information is still relevant. It was one of the first books published for the racer and crew chief on the subject of racecar data analysis.
This book is so rare and popular however, that copies are selling for $300-$800 each depending on condition. I may have to dust mine off and get it listed for sale! The original price I paid was $29.95. Apparently there is a way to make money in racing. — Dave Balingit, NASA Rocky Mountain Regional Director
“Chassis Engineering: Chassis Design, Building & Tuning for High Performance Handling” by Herb Adams
This book is a little rough, and a bit dated, but the concepts are great. It tends to focus on older technology, and its application to oval racing, but the base concepts were really helpful for me to understand. Most of the basics translate into more modern road racing suspensions, and the mental journey from the basics to our more complex applications really forces you to understand it. — Ashley Burt, Spec Z racer, Rocky Mountain Region
“Think Fast: The Racer’s Why-To Guide to Winning” by Neil Roberts.
This book doesn’t focus tightly on one aspect of a racecar’s performance, but goes over the whole package. Some general knowledge is good to have, but a beginner should be able to make it through this book without much issue. The concepts are explained in a way just about anyone can understand, but he does get into some technical bits. The techniques and information in this book should help just about any racer better understand his car, and racing techniques to ultimately lower your lap times.
My favorite passage is, “The strongest correlations between lap time and car performance parameters are the power-to-weight ratio and the downforce-to-drag ratio. Induced drag is inversely proportional to wing span squared, so the ideal wing span is the maximum that you can get away with.” — AJ Hartman, NASA Northeast American Iron racer
“Peak Secrets From The New Science of Expertise” by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool
I recently read a book — rare for me — that I highly recommend. It provides a detailed and compelling case asserting all cases of expertise are the result of thousands upon thousands of hours of practice, and refutes “natural talent” beliefs.
For me, it explains why I’m fast in racecars — because I put in massive amounts of time into quality, purposeful practice to develop my skills — starting with simulators, then karting and eventually cars.
For all racers, especially the newer or slower ones — but also for fast guys like me — it gives hope and guidance on how to reach higher and eventually, expert levels of performance on track through “deliberate practice,” lots of it! — Mark Drennan, NASA NorCal Spec Miata racer, two-time National Champion
“Drive to Win: The Essential Guide to Race Driving” by Carroll Smith
All the Carroll Smith stuff is great reading. “Drive to Win” is a great book that sets some good expectations of road racing as well as some well-explained technical data. — Will Faules, NASA Texas Regional Director
“The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein
“The Art of Racing in the Rain” is a great book that is a must read for any racing driver who also loves dogs. — Will Faules, NASA Texas Regional Director
“Performance Thinking” by Jacques Dallaire, Ph.D.
I should begin by saying this is not an easy book. It reminded me of some of the textbooks we were assigned in graduate school. It is not light reading. The material is dense, but the book presents valuable skills you need to be at your best, not only in the driver’s seat, but also anywhere else in life when you need to rise to a challenge. — Brett Becker, editor, Speed News
And, finally …
“For those who don’t read, always keep an open attitude toward improvement. The minute you think you are hot stuff and know what you are doing is the minute you begin the downward slope for bettering yourself. That is my attitude for every track weekend, whether it be a practice or race. Still, to this day, I am constantly raising the bar and setting new personal bests at nearly every event I attend. The open attitude toward learning also keeps it more fun since I am not yet at the pinnacle of my capabilities. Once you are the best at something, it becomes less fun, at least in my opinion. I wonder if I will ever get there, and at the rate things are going, I think there will always be room for improvement. — Rob Eskew, NASA Southeast Spec E30 racer