Rich Vogler book (review)

>From the current issue of SPRINT CAR NEWS: ---------------------------ooooOOOoooo--------------------------- By Phil Rider DeKalb, Ill. John Sawyer, "No time for Yesterday. Rich Vogler: His Life 1950-1990." Carl Hungness Publishing, P.O. Box ...

Rich Vogler book (review)

>From the current issue of SPRINT CAR NEWS: ---------------------------ooooOOOoooo--------------------------- By Phil Rider DeKalb, Ill.

John Sawyer, "No time for Yesterday. Rich Vogler: His Life 1950-1990." Carl Hungness Publishing, P.O. Box 24308, Speedway, IN 46224 (317-244-4792). 360 pages, illustrated, hardcover. $39.95 + $3.00 postage. ISBN 0-915088-75-4.

Rich Vogler was arguably one of the greatest open-wheel race drivers of the post-World War II era. The skill, courage, and determination of this taciturn Illinois native were without equal. Few drivers are more deserving of a thorough and well-written biography. "No Time For Yesterday," despite its size and appearance, is, unfortunately, not that book.

John Sawyer begins his biography with the birth of Rich's rough-and-ready father, Don Vogler, in Chicago. He then traces Rich's childhood, his career racing quarter midgets at local dirt tracks, his high school years, and his start in midgets at Sun Prairie in 1969. In the course of his study, Sawyer uncovers a number of interesting personal details about Vogler: his guitar playing, his interest in tropical fish, his almost complete disinterest in reading (perhaps a result of dyslexia).

Once past these early years, the chronology is abandoned. Subsequent chapters deal with a variety of topics, including his early years in sprint cars and dirt champ cars, Don Vogler's death at the Speedrome, Rich's first marriage, his interest in airplanes, his Indy car career (two chapters), and his years driving the Hoffman sprinter.

Accompanying the text are hundreds of terrific black and white photos by many of the greatest racing photographers: John Mahoney, Ken Coles, Jack and Katsue Gladback, Mike Arthur, and Leroy Byers. There are also a number of family photos of Rich away from the track. Although the photographs do not always seem relevant to the chapter in which they appear, and some are only marginally related to the book itself, they are, in themselves, worth the price of the book.

There are, unfortunately, several serious problems with the text of "No Time for Yesterday". Sawyer apparently interviewed a number of people in the course of writing the book. These include Eleanor Vogler, car owner Jonathan Byrd, Lee Carey (midget owner and longtime friend of Vogler), Cindy Todd (Rich's first wife), driver Mark Alderson, the Hoffmans (car owners), and many others. But he then made the unhappy decision to let these people relate their tales in more or less their own words and at great length; entire chapters are presented in this way. The result is often long rambling stories whose point is sometimes obscured by the details of the telling. Sawyer needed to extract from these interviews the pertinent information and present it clearly and with the appropriate supporting quotations.

But the presentation of clear and elegant prose is the most serious problem with this book. Much of the book is grossly overwritten, some of it so badly as to be almost unintelligible. From the first chapter on Vogler's experience at Indianapolis:

In his early years at Indy, Vogler took outrageously terrible chances. Relying upon graphic realism to establish a point, he took entirely too many outrageously terrible chances toward the killer moment of splashing his brains across a fair-to-middling stretch of the pocked ghostliness, which reaches inward in its role as the whitewashed cement guardrail of the Indianapolis Speedway's unbendable attempt to handcuff runaway speeds. [p. 243]

The simplest description cannot be delivered without metaphor: Illiana Speedway is "an asphalt half-miler with all the tilt in its turns of a pancake frying on low heat" (p. 112); nine-year-old Rich's half-midget is "a tire-toasting coach that screamed like a werewolf hit by the silver bullet of terrible termination" (p. 44).

Sawyer's view of the world of auto racing is one of perpetual melodrama, rendered in terms of blood and death and destruction. Vogler does not merely race at Terre Haute; he sets out "upon a twenty-mile journey of unconditional desperation" (p. 184). The high-banked tracks at Salem, Winchester, and Dayton are called "Hell's Hills", and "chatty Eddie Sachs cheated the Hills' bloodcurdling appetite for human flesh" (p. 235). Describing Don Vogler's fatal flip, Sawyer writes, "The little car continued to hang there in macabre design, something nastily akin to an old-days lynching victim dangling from a ghostly barked sycamore's limb" (p. 199). Three hundred triple-column pages of such tortured and hysterical prose leaves the reader weary.

There are also some curious omissions in the book. There is a photo of Vogler in a supermodified at the Copper Classic, but no discussion in the text of this venture. There is nothing about his attempts at SuperVees. There is nothing about his win at the first Chili Bowl Nationals. His many victories in the prestigious Hut Hundred, the Indy Midget 500, and the "Thunder in the Dome" invitational pass virtually unnoticed. There is also no mention of the Rich Vogler Memorial Scholarship Fund begun in his memory by his mother. There is, however, a very interesting appendix, compiled by Dick Jordan of the United States Auto Club, which details Vogler's complete record in USAC competition.

This is a handsomely hard-bound volume with a beautiful color illustration by Graham Turner on the cover. Buy the book for the cover and for the first-rate photos.

Send books, videos, calendars, etc. for review to 443 W. Hillcrest, DeKalb, IL 60115. Comments and questions welcome, too.

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