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Where the writer meets the road

3 years ago

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Writer:

Andrew Frankel | Ti co-founder

Date:

23 April 2021

It’s been 21 years since I last had a job. I’ve been on plenty of jobs, probably a thousand or more, but a job with a boss, holiday pay and pension contributions? That all ended in 2000. And it ended because I was by then the editor of Motor Sport magazine, which was as far as a man like me could ever go or, indeed, ever want to go in the world of salaried motoring journalism.

Giving it up was without question the most difficult decision of my professional life, but I knew I’d not be able to provide for my already growing family on what I was paid and I’d already done the job for nearly four years and was terrified of going stale. I’d seen it happen to other editors and it wasn’t pretty. What I loved most – and miss most – about the job and what still seems a near impossible privilege, was thinking of a story I wanted to read and just getting someone to write it for me. To be able to do so again was one of the reasons I agreed to help Dan found The Intercooler.

For instance, one day I realised I’d never read a really good appreciation of that exceptional American driver Mark Donohue. His autobiography – The Unfair Advantage – is one of the greatest racing books ever published and it was a tragedy that, like his buddy Peter Revson, he didn’t live long enough to see how popular it would become. But who would write such a story for me?

I didn’t know anyone who’d known him who could write, so I thought I’d do it myself, which would be sub-optimal, but at least I could interview some people who raced against him. So I rang Brian Redman and asked if he’d care to share his recollections of the man. To which he replied, ‘I’ll happily do it, but wouldn’t you be better off speaking to Sam?’

‘Sam?’

‘Yes, Sam Posey. Knew Mark much better than me, he’ll do a beautiful job for you.’

Sam Posey. Of course. I wouldn’t say I was on intimate terms with the details of this American racer’s career at the time, but knew him to be an accomplished driver who’d won the Sebring 12 hours, raced Indy and Can-Am cars, not to mention done 10 starts at Le Mans. Indeed in both 1970 and ’71, privately entered Ferraris driven by Posey came fourth and third, on both occasions the first car home behind works backed Porsche 917s.

Importantly he’d also been Donohue’s team-mate in Trans Am. And you don’t get to be that unless you know what to do with a steering wheel. Brian gave me his contacts, so I got in touch and was pleased to discover Sam was not only happy to help, he’d write the story for a fee I could afford. I knew it would need rewriting because racing drivers tend to be about as good at writing as writers are at racing, but we were used to that.

P90058921_highRes_race-car-driver-sam-
Posey with BMW‘s Andy Priaulx and Mario Theissen

The story arrived ahead of deadline and precisely to the required word count. It was a good start. But then I started reading it. For a professional writer, it would have been a triumph. For a racing driver, it was off the scale. We barely changed a word.

It started: ‘On May 28, 1972, a driver with a degree in mechanical engineering from Brown University won the Indianapolis 500. His name was Mark Donohue. It was a time of change, a time when technology was transforming the American racing scene, often with Donohue himself in the vanguard. He was something new, a gunslinger who also happened to have designed the gun.’

In all my years of reading about racing drivers, I’ve never heard the contribution made by one summed up more succinctly than in that last sentence. And I don’t imagine I ever will.

Many years later a collection of his stories and articles was turned into a book which I devoured in one hit the moment it was published in 2015. This excerpt describing trying to sleep at night at Le Mans in the 1970s, while your team-mate is out on the track, will illustrate why.

‘In the darkness of the trailer I see images of the road rushing at me, as if all those laps have been stamped on my mind, a tape loop that cannot be shut off. If I close my eyes, a second later I am grabbing for the edge of the cot, convinced I’m falling; hours of violent motion in a car have upset my balance. Every year the trailer walls seem thinner, or else the cars are louder, and the roaring is a reminder that my car is out there somewhere. When I am particularly tired I get the idea that the car is still going not so much because the nuts and bolts are right, but because the whole team is willing it to run – sheer mind over matter. For me to sleep is to reduce by one the force that keeps the car going.’

It was another six years before I tried to contact him again, just a few weeks ago as I happens. Sam is now 76 and has been a Parkinson’s sufferer for many years, but we needed to talk. Because, as regulars on our Instagram site might know, when Dan and I failed entirely to think of a tag line for The Intercooler upon which we could both agree, I turned to one written by someone else entirely: Sam Posey. It was the title of that 2015 book, Where The Writer Meets The Road. In six words it said everything we wanted to say about The Intercooler and how we hope it will become regarded.

And I don’t suppose there’s a thing in the world that would have prevented me from just appropriating it. If anyone spotted and pointed it out, we could explain its origins then. But it didn’t seem right and I was quite clear in my mind that we’d use it with Sam’s blessing or not at all.

Somehow his contacts had gone missing from one telephone to the next so I got in touch with another sorely underrated racing driver, the affable Brit and 20 times Le Mans starter David Hobbs. He has lived in the US for decades and knows Sam well enough to have been invited to write the foreword to the book. David gave me Sam’s contacts so I dropped him a line outlining what we were up to and asking his permission to use the name. The reply was immediate: ‘Sounds like a great idea. Go ahead. Good luck, Sam.’ And then a PS: ‘The title was suggested by my son John.’ Seems like there’s more than one fine writer in the Posey household.

One last comment about Sam Posey’s rare and special combination of talents: ‘If Sam Posey, the very fast and capable racing driver, writes a book, I want to read it. He has a way with words just as he did with the steering wheel and the gas pedal.’ Praise is only as good as the person giving it. In this case it was Daniel Sexton Gurney, and in our little world it doesn’t come much higher than that.

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