I am a firm believer that, as a racing fan, it is really important to understand the history of the sport. In the past, that has meant reading every book I could get my hand on about Le Mans, the Daytona 24 Hour, the Indy 500, and especially Formula One, which has endless books penned about its journey to become the so called height of motor-racing. I love racing history: I love how it came to be, I love the drama and the passion that goes into it. And I find that by reading up on my history of the sport, I can better appreciate the races I go to, the drivers I meet, and the cars I love.
Every manufacturer has their history and notoriety. Ferrari’s success in motorsport never would have been possible without Enzo Ferrari’s Machiavellian machinations to make one of the best racing programs in the world. Ford’s battle to take him on at Le Mans in the sixties is nothing short of incredible. Audi has spent the better part of eighteen years conquering endurance racing in a way that will always be the stuff of legend. BMW, Mercedes, Chevrolet, Peugeot, Honda… every manufacturer has a part in the racing annals that continues to drive the sport forward. But can there be any other manufacturer that has built better race cars, won more races, and translated it all to the road than Porsche?
The German manufacturer continues to win races, and for its fans, there is nothing better than the sound and feel of a Porsche. Over its many years in motor racing, there have been some of the most recognizable and legendary cars in motorsports that have come from Stuttgart. Some of the world’s best drivers have piloted Porsches, and won in them. They are the winningest manufacturer in Le Mans history with an incredible 18 wins. Cheer for them or not, they are simply a manufacturer that knows how to build a race car and then win with it.
But how do they do it? If you’re like me, you’ve stood around at the track, watching the crews on the cars, and wondered how a team knows what to do, how the set up works, how these brilliant minds knew what to do. If I’m lucky, I get to pull aside a driver or a crew member and ask the seemingly simple question, “How’s the car?” And from there, I might get a brief understanding of just how complicated running a race car really is.
Kussmaul Chronicles by Craig Watkins is a lot like asking that question, but instead of getting a simplified answer, you are treated to an incredible conversation between two engineers, who go into every detail of the challenges and the joys of building and running race cars. This book isn’t a biography, it isn’t a mechanical engineering textbook, it isn’t even a history book. This is a conversation. It’s a once in a lifetime conversation that I think every race fan in the world dreams of having, or at least of overhearing.
Roland Kussmaul, the subject of this conversation, is a Porsche engineer who is behind some of the greatest and most iconic race cars in the world, including a personal favorite of mine, the Porsche 935, which came from behind at Le Mans in 1983 to win. Kussmaul Chronicles follows his storied and varied career, going into the details of how his race cars came to win, but also giving the reader an amazing understanding of engineering and how to build a race car.
On the surface, it sounds like this book might be dull. Frankly, that couldn’t be further than the truth. Maybe it’s because this is actually a meaningful conversation: Kussmaul and Watkins are just talking about race cars and how they were built. The camaraderie that is so obvious throughout a paddock on a race weekend comes through with every word of the unique story telling. Watkins’s words are italicized, and Kussmaul’s voice is front and center, so unchanged that you can hear him, you can feel that passion.
Each story is new and interesting, and he goes into specifics. Even if you’re not an engineering buff, or don’t know a whole lot about the cars, you’re going to walk away from this book with an encyclopedia of knowledge, but also a new interest in how the cars work. If you are into cars and you love engineering, this is your book. There are drawings, there are explorations of how decisions are made, stories about how things can go wrong, and the highs of it all going right. This is a book for not only Porsche lovers, but for car lovers.
The conversation, like all conversations, isn’t always linear, and I found myself having to flip back a bit to make sure I was remembering something properly, but that’s part of this book’s charm. This is a 429-page interview, but there isn’t a single word that’s wasted. The story of the Rothman’s Porsche 935, a personal favorite of mine, was absolutely amazing to read it from the point of view of the man who built a car to win, a car that has since become such an icon within the sport. I actually read that chapter three or four times, grinning ear to ear.
Kussmaul Chronicles is a unique book for a lot of different reasons but if you’ve ever read a biography and wondered what the subject sounded like, you’re in luck. If you download a QR scanner on your smartphone, you actually get to hear Kussmaul’s voice tell these stories. It’s not only fun, it’s cool, and it helped to actually familiarize myself with his voice throughout the book. This is a book for the 21st century, and it’s also one that I think should be required reading for all race fans.
So if you’re wondering what to get the Porsche lover in your life, or if you’re just looking for a book that will deepen your understanding of race engineering, this is the book for you. Besides the fact that it’s an interesting read, it’s also a gorgeously put together book that will be a topic of conversation for any racing fan. I’m handing it off to my dad, a lifelong Porsche road car fan, after my third read. It’s just that good!
If you want to purchase Kussmaul Chronicles, you can do so here: http://www.kussmaulchronicles.com/buythebook.html