Faster: How a Jewish Driver, an American Heiress, and a Legendary Car Beat Hitler’s Best

Faster: How a Jewish Driver, an American Heiress, and a Legendary Car Beat Hitler’s Best

By:  Neal Bascomb

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Winner of the Motor Press Guild Best Book of the Year Award & Dean Batchelor Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism

For fans of The Boys in the Boat and In the Garden of Beasts, a pulse-pounding tale of triumph by an improbable team of upstarts over Hitler’s fearsome Silver Arrows during the golden age of auto racing.

They were the unlikeliest of heroes. Rene Dreyfus, a former top driver on the international racecar circuit, had been banned from the best European teams—and fastest cars—by the mid-1930s because of his Jewish heritage. Charles Weiffenbach, head of the down-on-its-luck automaker Delahaye, was desperately trying to save his company as the world teetered toward the brink. And Lucy Schell, the adventurous daughter of an American multi-millionaire, yearned to reclaim the glory of her rally-driving days.

As Nazi Germany launched its campaign of racial terror and pushed the world toward war, these three misfits banded together to challenge Hitler’s dominance at the apex of motorsport: the Grand Prix. Their quest for redemption culminated in a remarkable race that is still talked about in racing circles to this day—but which, soon after it ended, Hitler attempted to completely erase from history.

Bringing to life this glamorous era and the sport that defined it, Faster chronicles one of the most inspiring, death-defying upsets of all time: a symbolic blow against the Nazis during history’s darkest hour.

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  • Format: Hardcover

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9781328489876

  • ISBN-10: 1328489876

  • Pages: 368

  • Price: $28.00

  • Publication Date: 03/17/2020

  • Carton Quantity: 12

Neal Bascomb
Author

Neal Bascomb

NEAL BASCOMB is the national award–winning and New York Times best-selling author of The Winter Fortress, Hunting Eichmann, The Perfect Mile,Higher, The Nazi Hunters, and Red Mutiny, among others. A former international journalist, he is a widely recognized speaker on the subject of war and has appeared in a number of documentaries. He lives in Philadelphia. For more information, visit http://nealbascomb.com or find him on Twitter at @nealbascomb.  
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  • reviews

    Winner of the Motor Press Guild Best Book of the Year Award 

    Winner of the Motor Press Guild Dean Batchelor Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism 

     

    “The story of the speed revolution is long and complicated, but many of its parts are amenable to heroic narration . . . money is spent and lives are lost . . . champions rise and barriers fall . . . Grandeur and grandiosity abound. It makes for the kind of history movie producers love. Neal Bascomb’s new book, Faster . . . is this kind of history . . . Like many of the cars that race through it, Faster . . . keeps a brisk pace . . . Fresh, and told in vivid detail . . . [Bascomb] describes the twists and turns of the 1930s Grand Prix races as if he’d driven the courses himself.” 

    New York Times Book Review 

     

    “[A] well-researched account of the 1938 Grand Prix in Pau, France . . . Excellent . . . [Bascomb] moves with the aplomb of an F1 driver who starts in the middle of the pack and works his way up, car by car, to take the lead . . . Exciting, fast-moving prose.” 

    Wall Street Journal 

     

    “Bascomb’s account of the improbable victory of René Dreyfus over Nazi Germany’s elite racing team has speed, depth, and poetry. Race cars . . . Nazis . . . Monaco . . . a brash heiress and taciturn underdog…an epic showdown in the Pyrénées. It’s hard not to fall in love with Faster, Neal Bascomb’s brisk new portrait of European auto racing on the eve of World War II . . . The season’s most exhilarating and substantive beach read . . . It’s precision-engineered for Hollywood . . . There is alchemy at work in a piece of writing that approximates the rhythms of racing. At pivotal moments, the sentences fire in escalating, compact bursts—each stalking the next like the cars crowding each other on the winding city-streets of an old-style Grand Prix . . . Bascomb’s two great strengths as a nonfiction writer are his ability to create immersive scenes and his adherence to Hemingway’s ‘show, don’t tell’ principle . . . Readers will certainly come away with an appreciation for Bascomb’s deft portraits of these dynamic personalities, and for his miraculous excavation of an entirely new story from the over-tilled soils of World War II nonfiction.” 

    National Review 

     

    “The 1938 Pau Grand Prix has all the trappings of a blockbuster Hollywood film: cars, chaos, colorful characters, a competition between good and evil—in this case France and Nazi Germany. But until Neal Bascomb . . . decided to make the race the focus of his latest book, the tale remained little-known. Now, the story . . . has come roaring to life in truly cinematic fashion.” 

    Smithsonian 

     

    “The cars had tyres with little grip, feeble brakes and no crash protection whatever. Hot oil would continuously spray over drivers, who raced in linen caps . . . excursions would often result in mutilation or immolation. Faster is the story of René Dreyfus, who flourished in this atrocious atmosphere . . . Bascomb writes with a confidence and elegance based on impressive research and experience in the field of adventures . . . There is not much glory in our world. But you will find it in Faster.” 

    The Spectator 

     

    "Bascomb has re-created Europe's motorsport subculture of the 1930s, a mix of glamour, bitter rivalries and mortal danger, against the darkening clouds of fascism. A fine stylist, the author has sketched an ensemble of intriguing characters . . . he has mastered the language of propulsion and velocity . . . [Faster is] worth the ride." 

    —St. Louis Post-Dispatch  

     

    “This is the Seabiscuit of pre-war Grand Prix racing . . . A quality read, meticulously detailed.” 

    Sports Car Market 

     

    “Racing has always been a dangerous endeavor, but in the 1930s it was incredibly dangerous—and exciting. Bascomb manages to recapture that thrill and convey it, at the same time weaving an engaging narrative and riveting characters throughout.” 

    Automobile 

     

    “If Hollywood wants to continue its love affair with motorsport movies (Ford v Ferrari, The Art of Racing in the Rain), someone should immediately start turning Faster . . . into a screenplay . . . Faster has all the elements of a Hollywood blockbuster . . . Faster not only is the title of the book, but the way you’ll be reading as you go further into its pages . . . The book is so delightfully detailed you might wonder if Bascomb hadn’t been present to see the drama unfold.” 

    —Classic Cars Journal 

     

    Faster is a full-throttle reminder of the power of heroes to inspire us in dark times. Neal Bascomb has brought to life a gripping, expertly researched tale of an unlikely band of dreamers who risked everything to challenge evil.” 

    —Mitchell Zuckoff, New York Times best-selling author of Lost in Shangri-La and 13 Hours 

     

    “Sport, politics, and human passion collide in this sizzling ride of a book. Bringing the excitement of motor racing to life on a page is no easy task but Bascomb succeeds hugely. Rene Dreyfus’s victory over the Nazis is a victory for us all.” 

    —A.J. Baime, New York Times best-sellingauthor of Go Like Hell and The Accidental President 

     

    “Like one of the race cars Neal Bascomb so elegantly describes, Faster is a sleek hotrod of a narrative. Replete with fascinating characters, with a historic backdrop full of angst and menace, this is a David vs. Goliath story for the ages.” 

    —Nathaniel Philbrick, New York Times best-selling author of Mayflower and In the Hurricane’s Eye 

      

    “An American heiress and outcast Jewish driver team up to defy Hitler: it could be a Tarantino movie, but it really happened. Neal Bascomb brilliantly unspools their story with all the thrills, surprises, and danger of pre-war Grand Prix racing. A fascinating plunge into an era when daring drivers raced fast cars beneath gathering storm clouds, Faster is a tour de force, and deserves a place on everyone’s must-read list.” 

    —Garth Stein, New York Times best-selling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain 

     

    “Neal Bascomb’s spellbinding new book does for motorsports what Seabiscuit did for horse racing and Boys in the Boat did for rowing: with a race in every chapter, every turn of the page makes your heart beat a little—yes—faster.” 

    —Sarah Rose, best-selling author of D-Day Girls 

     

    “In Faster, we hear the rumble of cars and the rumors of war. Bascomb combines a wide-ranging history of racing—the tracks and the tricks, the storied rivalries and daredevil tactics that permeated a sport that killed many a driver—with the rise of the man responsible for the deaths of millions . . . Bascomb’s work [is] memorable on numerous levels.” 

    —Bookreporter 

     

  • excerpts
    Prologue“We Will Write the History Now”

    THE BEAST, LONG lurking in plain sight while the Allies stood idle, pounced at last. On May 10, 1940, wave after wave of German bombers, their supercharged engines in high pitch, swept across the dawn sky while armored columns rumbled overland. Into Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg the Nazis advanced, shattering the morning quiet. Their paratroopers severed communication lines and captured essential bridges. Commandos dropped from glider planes and seized critical fortresses before they could stall any advance. In short order, panzer divisions barreled deep into foreign territory. When French and British forces hurried northeastward to Belgium to stem the attack, they fell straight into the trap of expectations entrenched from the First World War. 

         To their east, the main thrust of the German juggernaut charged through the seventy-mile stretch of the Ardennes, forested hills once considered as impenetrable as the concrete fortifications of the Maginot Line that ran along the border between France and Germany. 

         The French had some fight left in them, but it was at best panicked going up against what one witness called “a cruel machine in perfect condition, organized, disciplined, all-powerful.” 

         At the news and battered suitcases, holding twisted birdcages, and dogs in stiff arms,” observed Life magazine, “they came and came and came.” 

         Fearing an invasion for more than a year, the French had safeguarded many of their finest treasures. In Paris, monuments were sandbagged, and the stained-glass windows of Sainte-Chapelle had been removed. Curators at the Louvre denuded its walls of masterpieces such as the Mona Lisa and its floors of priceless sculptures. Convoys of nondescript trucks hauled these artworks to chateaus across the country. Likewise, French physicists evacuated their supplies of heavy water and uranium, instrumental to the pursuit of a nuclear bomb. Priceless art and rare substances were not the only items squirreled away as the German blitzkrieg threatened Paris. Across the city, people stashed family heirlooms in cellars and buried them wrapped in oilcloth. One Parisian hid a batch of diamonds in a jar of congealed lard that he left on his pantry shelf. 

         In the Delahaye factory on the rue du Banquier in the working-class heart of the city stood four 145s. The manufacturer’s production chief intended to see his creations secured away, whether by dismantling them into parts, hiding them in caves outside the city, or, like those diamonds in the lard, masking them in the open, their engines and chassis covered up with new bodies—or none at all—and their true provenance concealed. These masterpieces could not be lost in the rage of war, nor found by the Nazis. There was little doubt that Hitler wanted them seized and destroyed.

    In late May, the Germans drove back the Allied forces into northern France, where they were forced to evacuate the continent at Dunkirk. Then the invading army wheeled toward Paris. Reynaud exhorted his countrymen to fight to the death to hold the Somme, while his feckless war committee debated where to move the government when Paris fell. His staff collected secret papers to be sunk in barges in the Seine or burned in ministry yards. 

         While the police Stuka planes dropped over a thousand bombs, targeting most intensely the Renault and Citroën factories in western Paris, which had transitioned to war production, much as their German counterparts, most notably Daimler-Benz and Auto Union, had done years before. The attack killed 254 and wounded triple that number. 

         The exodus from Paris accelerated. 

         Two days later, the Germans launched the second half of their campaign to take France. At the Somme, they ruptured the French line, their panzer divisions overpowering the courageous but doomed army. The door to Paris was ajar, and Reynaud and his government abandoned the capital. 

         Onward the Wehrmacht pressed. 

         In the capital, the growing numbers of routed French soldiers with unkempt beards and muddied uniforms portended the inevitable. Finally, on June 14, motorized columns of the German army—including heavy trucks, armored vehicles, motorcycles with sidecars, and tanks—entered an undefended city. Soldiers clad in gray and green followed on foot. The streets were so empty before them that at one intersection a herd of untethered cows aimlessly wandered past. 

         The Germans fortified positions at key arteries across the city, but there was no reason for such caution. Residents were helpless to launch a revolt when their armies had already retreated to the south. Instead, from windows and half-open doorways, they gaped at the rows of Germans marching past in their heavy boots. 

         By the afternoon, swastikas flew from the Arc de Triomphe and the ministry of foreign affairs. An enormous banner was strung to the Eiffel Tower that read, in block letters, “DEUTSCHLAND SIEGT AN ALLEN FRONTEN” threaded throughout the city streets, demanding obedience and warning that any hostile act against the Third Reich’s troops would be punishable by execution.

    On June 18, General Charles de Gaulle broadcast his own message to his countrymen from his offices in exile at the BBC in London. “Is the last word said? Has all hope gone? Is the defeat definitive? No. Believe me, I tell you that nothing is lost for France. One day—victory . . . Whatever happens, the flame of the French resistance must not die and will not die.” 

         Marshal Philippe Pétain, the newly installed French prime minister, maintained the opposite conviction. He pleaded for surrender, and on June 21, Hitler rolled into the Forest of Compiègne in an oversized Mercedes to deliver his demands. Surrounded by his highest officials, including General Walther von Brauchitsch, commander of all German forces, Hitler emerged from his car. Never one to shy from symbols, he forced the French to sign the terms of capitulation in the same train carriage in the same clearing where the Kaiser’s emissaries had surrendered on November 11, 1918. 

         Fifty miles away in Paris, the Germans solidified their control of the capital, targeted its Jewish population, and began expropriating whatever they wanted. “They knew where everything was,” was the common refrain: the best hotels, the finest galleries, the richest houses, and even the most popular bordellos. 

         On the Place de la Concorde, the German army commandeered the famously elegant Hôtel de Crillon and its neighboring colonnaded mansion, which was owned by the Automobile Club de France (the ACF). Founded in 1895, and the first such club of its kind, the club organized the French Grand Prix. Its membership included some of the wealthiest, most influential men in the city. Spread out over 100,000 square feet in a pair of buildings constructed during the reign of Louis XV, the club’s quarters were well suited to its prestige. 

         One day early in the occupation, its private bedrooms, and its shaded terraces were of no interest to him. Neither was he there to dine in one of its chandeliered, gold-trimmed restaurants, nor to swim in its palatial pool surrounded with statues l...

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: Hardcover

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9781328489876

  • ISBN-10: 1328489876

  • Pages: 368

  • Price: $28.00

  • Publication Date: 03/17/2020

  • Carton Quantity: 12

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