Saturday, August 29, 2015

Book Review: Blood, Sweat & Gears.
The Story of the Gray Ghost and the Junkyard Firebird
by David G. Barnes

While reading the latest issue of the National Firebird & Trans Am Club magazine, the picture of the cover of a book caught my eye.

The blurb read that Blood, Sweat & Gears. The Story of the Gray Ghost and the Junkyard Firebird, by David G. Barnes, was available from Amazon. So I decided to check it out.

The reviews were encouraging and the price (only $9.99), made it easy to click the "Add to Cart" button. A couple of days later I had a copy in my hands.

And then it sat on my nightstand for a few weeks.

Once I was done with whatever magazines I was reading—and I subscribe to quite a few—I basically ran out of stuff to read before bedtime, so I decided to give Blood, Sweat & Gears a shot.

Talk about a page-turner!

The book chronicles the true story of how a team of talented Pontiac engineers turned an 80,000-mile 1964 Pontiac Tempest-cum-GTO, into a worthy contender of the 1971 SCCA Trans-Am Series. Then, in 1972, they did it again by building a race car out of a junkyard Pontiac Firebird. Both times without factory support!

As a kid growing up in the late 1960s and 70s, I fell in love with American muscle cars, and I've owned many over the years. But Pontiacs have always been a favorite of mine. Not sure what makes one make such choices, but I've never questioned mine.

So to me, a book relating a true David and Goliath-type story involving a grocery-getter Tempest and a junkyard Firebird turned into race cars, competing against factory-backed teams, well, that's the kind of bedtime story I like to hear.

To be fair to both author and reader, I don't want to ruin the narrative. So instead of me rambling aimlessly and risking doing just that, I will share a couple of snippets, so you can get a taste of how the book actually reads.


From pages 64 and 65 ...

On lap 64, the seemingly inevitable happened; Peter Revson in his yellow Javelin pitted and Tullius moved into second place. The TV announcer had a story and he was excited.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a remarkable story in the making here at Lime Rock. It's lap 64 and the seven-year-old gray GTO, with absolutely no factory support and only a few sponsors, has incredibly woven its way through the rain-soaked field from dead last into second place behind the pole sitter!
Each time the two leaders accelerate past the grandstands, the soaking wet crowd leaps to its feet to cheer on the old, amateur underdog GTO. The yellow Javelin, formerly in second, just entered the pit, which allowed Bob Tullius in the GTO to streak into second place.
Despite the continuing rain, this grandstand crowd here at Lime Rock remains at near capacity and roared its approval upon witnessing the GTO just move into second. An otherwise potentially ordinary race—made even more mundane and difficult to watch by the incessant rain—has become a truly exciting battle: a battle of David and Goliath.
I must say, ladies and gentlemen, that in all my years of covering automobile racing, I have rarely seen anything like this."
The 1964 Pontiac Tempest (a.k.a. the Gray Ghost) in action — Photo by Ted "the Greek" Lambiris

And from pages 130 and 131 ...

This was a major transmission problem. The Ghost's third gear was shot. Tullius cursed loudly. He wasn't going to quit now, not at the halfway point. Not ever.
Tullius had been coasting now for a few seconds—far too long—and was rapidly losing speed while attempting to find third gear. He took another glance at the mirror and cursed again, this time at the closing Javelin.
He rammed the stick into second. It meshed immediately and Tullius slapped the gas to the floor and held it there until the tachometer was nearly redlined.
As the prepared to shift from second gear directly into fourth, Tullius knew he must avoid under-rotating the engine to avoid serious damage to the motor. The only way to do this was to rev it high, but not too high, in second gear before shifting directly into fourth.
He was halfway down the straight with the Ghost's engine screaming near the redline when he shifted fluidly from second to fourth gear. Tullius smoothly mashed the gas pedal to the floor and the Ghost instantly complied, roaring toward the next curve. No signs of shuddering or the low engine groaning indicative of under-rotation.
The Javelin began to shrink in the Ghost's rear view mirror.
Tullius took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. He had avoided over-rotating the engine in second and under-rotating it in fourth.
Now he, and the remaining gears in the transmission, had to do it repeatedly for another 55 laps while continuing to close in on the leader.

I emailed David Barnes a few days ago since I had a few questions about the story and the narrative, and he kindly answered them.

In the spirit of accuracy, I am using some of his comments verbatim.


From: David Barnes
To: Luis Hernandez, Jr.
Date: Mon, Aug 24, 2015 at 11:10 AM
Subject: Blood, Sweat & Gears
Luis:
I was inspired to write Blood, Sweat & Gears after the death of my father. I had kicked around the idea of writing a book for along time when my father passed away. He was 72 years old and his death eventually got me thinking about my own mortality and the need to actually write a book before it was too late—instead of just thinking about it.
The idea for Blood, Sweat & Gears hit me when I was working as corporate counsel for American Axle & Manufacturing in Detroit about 12 years ago not long after the death of my father.
A newsletter from American Axle's Technical Center came across my desk, which contained an article about a product engineer there named Herb Adams. The article said that in 1970 he and his engineers at Pontiac Motor Division converted his wife's 1964 Pontiac Tempest into a Trans Am race car and successfully raced against the pros in 1971.
I couldn't believe it. So, I called Herb right then. He confirmed it was a true story and that no book had been written about it. I asked if he minded if I wrote the book (because it was clearly a great American underdog sports story in the same vein as Seabiscuit, Rudy, Invincible, etc.).
He agreed and we began a series of lunch meetings during which I picked his brain and took furious notes. 10 years later the book got published.
The book is, for the most part, factually accurate. The dialogue is made-up, but most of the facts are true. I call it fictional, but it's really historical non-fiction, or as another book reviewer characterized it, "creative nonfiction." It's a "based on a true story" book.
For example, all the races really occurred the way they are depicted in the book and the names and personalities of the main characters are accurate. I "got in their heads" by endless hours of interviews with Herb and also interviews with the most of the living team members, including drivers Bob Tullius and Milt Minter.
Herb and I have done one book signing and are scheduled to do another this weekend at the Trans Am Nationals in Dayton and yet another on September 20 at the Pontiac/Oakland Automotive Museum Annual Car Show in Pontiac, Illinois.
We're also scheduled to do a presentation to students at Wayne State College of Engineering on September 18th about the importance of determination in completing car projects.
—Dave
As you can see from the excerpts, Blood, Sweat & Gears is a well-written and engaging story, which allows any gearhead to travel back in space and time to a simpler era, and feel like part of the action.

The only thing missing, are photos taken at the garage while they built the cars, as well as candid photos of the crew at different racetracks. Unfortunately, production cost considerations did not allow for pictures, according to the author.

You can order a copy from Amazon at—what I consider—a bargain price of $9.99 (only $3.99 for Kindle). It also makes a great gift.





About the Author:

David G. Barnes spent over two decades working in the American automobile industry with hundreds of automotive engineers, including Herb Adams, the father of the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, and the main character of Blood, Sweat & Gears.

Contact David at DGBarnesJD@gmail.com.


Product Details:

Paperback: 284 pages
Publisher: Telemachus Press (Oct. 14, 2014)
ISBN-10: 1941536468 | ISBN-13: 978-1941536469
Product Dimensions: 6 x 9 inches

Paperback $9.99 | Kindle $3.99

The Junkyard Firebird at speed — Photo by  Ted "the Greek" Lambiris