“The Last Lap: The Mysterious Demise of Pete Kreis at the Indy 500” reviewed

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‘The Last Lap’ is one of the most unusual and unexpected new motorsport books of the year.

Ostensibly this is a biography of its subject, Pete Kreis, and study of the circumstances surrounding his death and that of (scarcely-mentioned) riding mechanic Bob Hahn in practice for the 1934 Indianapolis 500. But The Last Lap, which slowly reveals its secrets, is more than an ordinary biography.

Author William Walker is a distant relative of Kreis and the narrative flow of the book is as much a personal odyssey as pure biography. Locking into the flow of the book there is much to enjoy, particularly if you have an interest in rural America in the early 20th century – the balance of the story is weighted towards the often-fascinating Kreis family history.

The counter side to that is that The Last Lap is not a pure motorsport book – if you’re hoping for detailed insight to US motorsport in the 1920s and 1930s, you’ll find some but not all of that here. Some of the sections – like the early races at Monza – are superb and really capture the adventure of the times. But Walker is clearly ‘interested in’, rather than ‘about’, the sport and consequently there are a few exposition passages which could grate for some.

A key element in all this is that Kreis wasn’t all that successful as a driver, and after some early seasons only really competed once a year, at Indianapolis. Consequently, there isn’t a raft of notable on-track exploits to draw on to propel the narrative along.

The book builds to a tragic crescendo and its shocking conclusion. I don’t quite agree with Walker’s verdict, but I can see why he reached it. Perhaps unfairly, but from the early pages I did wonder whether The Last Lap would have worked better as a novel.

I enjoyed The Last Lap, and it was great to read something about motor sport that was really different. For fans of the early days of the Brickyard this is well worth the investment and The Last Lap will stay with me – both the content and style are worthy of longer discussion.

RaceFans rating

Rating four out of five

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“The Last Lap: The Mysterious Demise of Pete Kreis at the Indianapolis 500”

Author: William Walker
Publisher: Octane Press
Published: 2013
Pages: 304
Price: $27.95 (£22.43)
ISBN: 9781642341430

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Ben Evans
Motorsport commentator Ben is RaceFans' resident bookworm. Look out for his verdict on the latest motor racing publications on Sundays....

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1 comments on ““The Last Lap: The Mysterious Demise of Pete Kreis at the Indy 500” reviewed”

  1. I’ve never heard of him. I don’t think I’ll Google him or how their deaths came about, instead go with the book first. It’s not often there’s a motorsport book that I don’t already preconceptions about or memory of.

    And finally – a motorsport book that costs the price of a normal book.

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