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HomeCar CultureRetro Reads: Octane Press launches reprint series with ‘Finding the Groove’

Retro Reads: Octane Press launches reprint series with ‘Finding the Groove’

In the early ‘70s, Hal Higdon asked racers how they find the fast way around a track

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As we’ve reported here previously, I’m in the process of donating my automotive library to McPherson College in Kansas. I’ve already delivered two U-Haul trailer loads of books, the second in the past few weeks as part of my 75 Days of Summer drive. 

I’ve told the folks at the only college in the country granting a 4-year degree in automotive restoration that there’s one more load to come, but not while I’m still upright. What I’m keeping are books I have used daily for reference, and books that I simply have become too attached to  release.

Those books range from the Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile to American Cars by Leon Mandel, my late mentor in this business; A Message to Garcia, the tiny book Harley Earl made everyone on his GM Design staff read; and there are several others, including Finding the Groove.

Not familiar with Finding the Groove? It was published in 1973 and its format is straightforward: Author Hal Higdon spent a racing season asking drivers, “How do you go fast around a racetrack?”

There are 27 such chapters in the book, and the drivers include Mario Andretti, Mark Donohue, Richard Petty, Don Garlits, Peter Revson, and George Follmer. But it’s not only the big-track stars sought out by Higdon. He interviewed street racer Malcolm Garrett; Keith Mashburn, who was racing motorcycles on a horse-racing oval; Tony Van Voorst, a short-track stock car racer in the Dakotas; and he interviewed Sam Sessions, a USAC sprint car racer and sometime Indy 500 starter – Al Unser Sr. admitted that he wasn’t a better driver than Sessions, but simply had been luckier.

If you’re not familiar with Finding the Groove, you have a second chance to enjoy a nostalgic trip back to racing as it was 50 years ago since the book has been republished as part of the Retro Reads series launched by Octane Press. 

“I used to be in a writing group and Hal was part of it,” said Octane founder and publisher Lee Klancher. 

Back in 2013, a movie Snake & Mongoose: Fast Friends, Arch Rivals was released, sharing the story of Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen, and how backing from the Mattel toy company made their rivalry a cultural phenomenon.

Years earlier, Higdon had written Six Seconds to Glory, a biography of Prudhomme, and Octane’s new Retro Reads series traces to the company’s reprint of the Prudhomme bio to take advantage of the Snake & Mongoose movie’s success.

“Hal and I connected again recently, and he has another five books we’re bringing back in the Retro Reads format,” Klancher revealed. “And we’re looking at choosing other books that we think are good… books that have a timeless characteristic.”

The original Finding the Groove was published in hardcover, the reprint is 6X9 softcover and while the text is the same, Higdon has written a new Introduction that provides perspective on the 50 years of racing between 1971 and 2021. 

Finding the Groove is available from Octane Press in print or e-book formats.

Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

3 COMMENTS

  1. When Lee Klancher and I started talking about a reprint of Finding the Groove, I worried first whether a book that first appeared in the 1970’s would make any sense in today’s market. Yes, the Andretti and Unser names still resonate today, but what about all those other drivers I interviewed, almost all of them retired, others, sadly dead? Strikingly, the “groove” in tracks from Daytona to Indianapolis remains, and the desire of the finest of the finest to find that groove continues to dominate the autosport. Thanks to Lee for making this still readable book available to today’s race fans.

  2. Not only do the grooves remain, but so do our memories of the drivers, even the less famous ones. When I was a young reporter at the Grand Rapids Press, Sam Sessions would stop in the office to chat and have horrible out-of-the-vending machine coffee from time to time. His son became one of the top pole vaulters in Michigan high school history. Reading again Al Unser’s words about how luck plays a part in people’s lives was haunting.

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