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When the Hot Rods Ran; May 15, 1938 by William Carroll

When the Hot Rods Ran; May 15, 1938 by William Carroll
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Book Review by Richard Parks, Photographic Consultant Roger Rohrdanz


How often do you hear someone say, “this is a must buy book.” Well, this is one of those must have books for your hot rod library. This is a statement that is placed at the beginning and not the end of a review and the reason is rather strange. For this book has a lot of flaws, but it is one of those books that is a pace setter and the flaws are unimportant. Why is this book so important? Because it is the first book of its kind, before any other was even thought about. It was written and published in 1991, but the photos and ideas came from the very first SCTA (Southern California Timing Association) land speed time trials. That event occurred on May 15, 1938 and William Carroll was there to record it. Strangely enough, Carroll was attracted to the event by all the excitement buzzing in the young hot rodding movement. He went to Muroc, which is now called Edwards Air Force Base, in the Mojave (pronounced Mo-ha-vay) Desert to see what this race was all about. He never went back and his career progressed in other directions. There are many other books that have more text and photos and are indexed. But Carroll’s book is superior to them all because he was the first. The analogy is this; if you could have an expensive Bible, or go back in time and watch the first authors of the Bible write their books, which would you want? Carroll’s book, written recently, still contains his thoughts, feelings and photos from that original event that transformed auto racing in the West. From that day, landspeed and drag racing trace their roots. This is the book that starts your library.

When the Hot Rods Ran; May 15, 1938, by William Carroll, is a softbound book on thick, non-glossy paper. All the photos are in black and white, but the quality is superb and the lack of color does nothing to lessen their value. The book is oddly shaped and is shorter and longer, which make it difficult to fit into your library shelves without sticking out. The size is 8 ½ inches tall and 11 inches long. William Carroll is a free spirit and I sort of feel that he chose this shape so that you couldn’t avoid the book. It has no index and you should know by now that a book without an index is very irritating for a reviewer and historians. But since there is hardly any text and the captions are very general in nature, it does not impact this book as much as some others. When the Hot Rods Ran; May 15, 1938 is 80 pages in length and has 113 black and white photos with an additional 22 miscellaneous charts, map and program inserts. The book is small, the text is nearly non-existent, but what it lacks in size it makes up in originality. The photos are stunning. Carroll even flew in an airplane over the event and took aerial photos, which are breathtaking. It would be nearly six decades before Ralph Foster would take to the air and replicate these photos with color photography of his own on the anniversary of the Muroc Reunion. The author mentions very few of the participants on that historic day. He names Nellie Taylor, who would start up the Taylor and Ryan Garage in Whittier. Carroll follows Taylor from his home to the dry lakes and back, documenting the events of the weekend. Others mentioned include Ernie McAfee, Johnny Junkin, Tom Dowlen, among other young racers. He gives a brief history of the event, some of which he observed and some that he learned about later.

The photos are rare and unique. I’ve seen lots of photos from the early and late 1940’s, which are in other collections. Photos from 1938 are much harder to come by and the period 1942 through 1945 is almost non-existent because of the elimination of auto racing because of World War II. Carroll’s photographs are simply first class. They are exceptional, rare and evocative. He took photos from every angle and perspective imaginable. These aren’t the run of the mill photos of a car standing alone. He wasn’t interested in just the cars. He was recording the people and the historicity of the event, although he may not have realized it at the time. You will see photos of young men warming themselves by a bonfire and others sleeping under a car, just as I remember it as a boy. The photos of the chill night air, the morning sunrise and the stirring of life as the racers embrace the day. Carroll shows, through his photos and captions, the organization that the SCTA members developed so that they could race on the dry lakes of Southern California. He shows photos of the timers, judges, starters and other officials. Young men committed to a cause and a sport that is still going strong to this very day. The faces of the men and women are fresh and full of anticipation. This is their version of Woodstock and they will take this experience with them back to the towns that they came from and spread the word of this new form of auto racing. Carroll paid a pilot $2.50 for a ten minute plane ride and the aerial photos are outstanding. That sounds like very little in today’s currency, but in the 1930’s that amount would have purchased ten hamburgers, fries and malts for you and your friends. When the Hot Rods Ran; May 15, 1938 is self-published by the author, William Carroll through Auto Book Press, and copies can be purchased directly from the author.

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Coda Publications
P.O. Box 71
Raton, NM 87740
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From the Book

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The girls slept in the car. The racers slept on the lake bed under every blanket they could find, leaving one man with a flashlight to watch for oncoming cars

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An aerial view of Hot Rods in the start line at Muroc 1938.

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