SRB: Brrrmmmmmm brrrrmmmmm
The Drivers: a Celebration of New Zealand Motor Sport’s
Greatest' by Tim Nevinson
Harper Collins 2007 RRP $50 Reviewed by MARTIN CRAIG for the Scoop Review of Books
Tim Nevinson is motorsport fan. His passion for the sport, and the drivers he met and interviewed for this book, show clearly in his writing. But lazy editing and proofreading mean The Drivers fails to do its subjects justice.
The Drivers introduces 51 New Zealand drivers who made it in international track racing. It's the first in a proposed series: following volumes will cover bikers and drivers in other racing codes.
It starts with the motorsport pioneers who helped to develop the sport after WWII. In those days it was possible to build your own car, drive it to the track, race and drive home again.
As the sport developed, New Zealand produced a generation of drivers who won at the highest levels internationally. Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme, Chris Amon and Colin McRae all feature, as do many other drivers who worked with them. The 1960s and 1970s were glory days for New Zealand motorsport, and many New Zealanders today don’t realise we produced a Formula One team (McLaren) and a world champ (Hulme). This was international sport at its most competitive, at a time when Kiwis were overwhelmingly interested in secondary sports like rugby and cricket.
The Drivers also covers the current generation of drivers-as-corporate-assets. This modern generation needs a team of sponsors and advisors – even getting a test drive for an international team costs six figures, needs a developed sponsorship package, and you need to be a talented driver too. The Drivers includes Scott Dixon, Greg Murphy and promising younger drivers like Brendon Hartley.
Nevinson’s coverage, then, is wide, although not as wide as the title promises. His subjects deserve recognition and have great stories to tell. So it’s disappointing that the book needs a sound whack with the editing stick. Many articles feature long, rambling direct quotes, often including racing jargon and slang that will be lost on many readers. The most famous drivers suffer most from this treatment. Second-tier entries are shorter and tighter, and all the better for it. Smart editing would both improve the text and leave more room for photos.
Less forgivable is the embarrassing number of simple errors that should have been caught by proof reading and fact checking. A single page in the introduction refers to Wellington suburb “Mirimar” and to “the USA’s 52 states”. The entry on Steve Millen has multiple references to the Millen brothers but does not name Steve’s brother Rod, who will be familiar to many readers through his own motorsport success. Car model numbers are used inconsistently in the articles. Obvious errors like these inevitably leave readers wondering about other facts presented in the text.
There is no index, which is unacceptable in a non-fiction reference book, and there are very few dates in the text, with no dates of birth/death.
Nevinson's admiration for his subjects is clear. It means he has avoided asking some hard questions. Has Scott Dixon lost the mojo that made him a star in the early 2000s? Does Greg Murphy believe his temper has cost him career opportunities? We don't know, and Nevinson isn't asking. And while he would probably rather be interviewing than checking facts and dates, his subjects and his readers deserve a better result than The Drivers delivers.
The Drivers is part of a series and isn’t intended to be a comprehensive history of New Zealand motorsport. Sandy Myhre’s 50 Years On Track (Hodder Moa Beckett 2002) is a better introduction. But if the series is to be worth doing it will need to fix the fundamental weaknesses that let The Drivers down.
One for the fans and completists.
Wellington writer and researcher Martin Craig runs Splash Communications firstname.lastname@example.org. His brief motorsport career was enough to get his photo in the Dominion, but not significant enough to earn an entry in The Drivers.