Dave Argabright is one of the most respected auto racing journalists and authors in America. He has been seen on motor sports broadcasts on Speed Channel, TNN, ESPN and the Indianapolis 500 Radio Network, and his writing has appeared in publications including NATIONAL SPEED SPORT NEWS, Sprint Car and Midget Magazine, Road & Track and Car & Driver. His award-winning books such as “Lone Wolf,” “Still Wide Open” and “American Scene” have told stories about some of the most important and influential people and events in sprint car and midget racing history.
His new book is “Fast Company,” which tells the story of Speedway Motors founder “Speedy” Bill Smith. Argabright recently spoke with aerochug.com about Smith’s story and the process of collaborating on a book. This is part one of the interview – part two can be read here
What was the path that led you to work with Bill on this book?
You know, I don’t remember exactly the first conversation, but Bill has been a friend of mine for a lot of years, and after I had written a few other books, he had mentioned to me that he would have an interest in writing a book someday if I’d be interested in helping him. At the time he brought it up, I was involved in other projects, but then it’s a largely a matter of timing sometimes. So right as I finished up my book with Doug Wolfgang, Bill was eager to get something started finally, so it just took off from there.
I’m sure that when you are working on books, sometimes you have to get stories out of other people while in other cases you’re more the editor because your subjects are so eager to talk. What was this book like?
A little bit of both. You have to pay close attention for a lot of different reasons. You want to get to know somebody so well when you’re in this role of the co-author, that when they tell you things you develop the ability to sort of know what they’re trying to say even though they’re not able to come up with the right words. You can then take these stories and – still in their voice – put it in a way that can form up into a narrative that’s readable. If you read transcription of a tape that’s been transcribed verbatim, it’s not very easy reading. The way we speak is very different than the way it comes off on the page. So you’ve got to sort of attack that part first, and then listen to what they’re saying and sort of pick up on something that they might pass over very quickly and you can go back to at the first break and say “tell me more about this” and flesh out the stories as they go. Sometimes you have too much information, sometimes you’ve got to dig a little bit and prod and pry a little bit to get more information. But with everyone I’ve ever worked with, it’s been a little bit of both.
How much of this book was about telling the story of Bill growing the car culture in a place like Nebraska?
I’ve always been a student of history. I like history. And I guess I have a natural curiosity of I look at something as it is right now, and I’ve always been kind of fascinated about “How did this get started? How did this come about? Where did this come from?” And I knew enough about the performance industry when I came in through it, loving muscle cars and stuff like that as a kid, this had to come from somewhere. Down through the years I had read little things and this and that about the history and how this got started and that got started, and it fascinated me that it was almost by fate, I guess. Nobody had an early blueprint to say “we’re going to do this to create an industry.” Nobody every set out to do that. It was guys like Bill who loved cars in their little corner or their own little way, they did things that sort of furthered the thing and between everybody, the next thing you know they’ve got a whole population of a nation that’s excited about cars.
Was there anything you learn in researching the book that surprised you?
I’d always known that Bill had various health challenges down through his life. I sort of had sketchy ideas about different things that he had dealt with. But it wasn’t until we really drilled down to specifics and assembled the whole picture and whole story that I realized how difficult he had it in terms of health. Getting hit by the race car part, the terrible ailment he had as a kid that required him to be in a body cast for a year. Things like that, I just didn’t know until I got into it just how profoundly he had to work to overcome those obstacles. I mean, that was probably the biggest surprise to me. I just did not know that he had such a tough road.
Those early challenges seem to set a tone for how determined he has been the rest of his life. Is that something you felt was important to show in the book?
I think so. The number one thing that I want when someone is reading this and they have finished it is, especially if they know that individual, I want them to hear that person’s voice while they’re reading the pages. I want it to be a narrative in a way that speaks to them personally. If it’s a guy that knows Bill, I want him to be able to hear Bill’s voice. And number two, when a guy is finished reading one of these volumes, I want them to be able to set that book down and say “I really know this guy now. I really understand who he is, where he came from and what he’s all about.” And I don’t think you could have told Bill’s story without those early episodes that illustrated just how dedicated he was to pursuing his dream. He had a dream of a successful speed shop and he had a dreadful fear of failure. And those are the things that kind of came together and made him the person that he is.