INSIDE THE RENO AIR RACES

WANT TO KNOW how good this book is? Well, I rank air racing right up there with tractor pulls and riding mower races, among the most boring and inconsequential forms of motorsport on the planet, and I read Fly Low Fly Fast in two feverish sittings. Almost made me want to go back to an air race. Almost.

WANT TO KNOW how good this book is? Well, I rank air racing right up there with tractor pulls and riding mower races, among the most boring and inconsequential forms of motorsport on the planet, and I read Fly Low Fly Fast in two feverish sittings. Almost made me want to go back to an air race. Almost.

The beauty of Robert Gandt's book is that you don't have to. He sometimes hyperventilates in his mission to portray Unlimited category air racers as either modern day gunslingers or iceman cool technocrats, and to convince us that their ancient P 51's, Furys, and Bearcats (and the rather less ancient but horrifyingly ill fated homebuilts Tsunami and Pond Racer) are among the more sophisticated competition machines around, but that's okay.

The Tom Cruise/Robert Duvall film Days of Thunder, much reviled by NASCAR purists, charmingly exaggerated the human side of Winston Cup racing (if only those races were as exciting as they are in the movie). In the same breathless way, Gandt gossips, analyzes, and conjectures about the motives and talents, dark sides and delights of everybody from farmer/racer Tiger Destefani to elderly celebrity pilot Bob Hoover.

In fact, I'm already casting in my imagination the film version of Fly Low Fly Fast. Tom Skerritt plays limber hipped, mustachioed Tiger; we'll get an intense Scott Glenn as hired gun pilot Skip Holm; Duvall to reprise his Days of Thunder crew chief role as Reno's winningest team leader Bill Kerchenfaut, Ed Harris as exastronaut and Southwest Airlines pilot Hoot Gibson.... The only problem is that W C Fields isn't available and wasn't nearly thin enough to play Bob Hoover.

Gandt may be the best unknown aviation writer around, though I'm among the admirers of Skygods, his inside look at the haughty yet collapsing Pan Am for which he then flew, as well as his more recent Bogeys and Bandits, an account of the training of Navy F/A 18 pilots. But his name doesn't leap to mind as quickly as do those of the warhorses' rivet counters, and hacks who usually are more fascinated by machinery than by human beings. Gandt, is a working stiff who currently flies as a Delta Air Lines captain.

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