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Thread: Russ Catlin: Legacy of Ashes

  1. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by Don Capps View Post
    That might be more than a bit overstating the case regarding the "nostalgians" (sic) versus the historians, at least it would certainly be judging from my experience.

    At any rate, a paraphrase of W.G. Sebald, who once wrote, "Men and animals regard each other across a gulf of mutual incomprehension," might quite be in order, simply by changing it to "nostalgians" and "historians."
    Given this statement, I wonder why you are posting in a forum clearly designated as nostalgia. I have always thought of this forum as as a place to share our own memories, mementos and experiences as opposed to an academic excursion into the past.

    Perhaps the powers that be here at TF would consider creating a "History" forum dedicated to the curation and documentation of racing related content and users can more fully enjoy both views of looking at the past.
    Jeff Downer
    Indianapolis, Indiana

  2. #32
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    Quote Originally Posted by Don Capps View Post
    That might be more than a bit overstating the case regarding the "nostalgians" (sic) versus the historians, at least it would certainly be judging from my experience.

    At any rate, a paraphrase of W.G. Sebald, who once wrote, "Men and animals regard each other across a gulf of mutual incomprehension," might quite be in order, simply by changing it to "nostalgians" and "historians."
    Help me understand where you're coming from, Don. Do you often attend, or at least watch races on television? Have you attended races where you found yourself emotionally interested? Have you stood and cheered for a driver, or applauded in appreciation of a particularly hard fought race? Can you remember, from personal recollection, the events of a race which was run long ago? Do you have any opinion regarding any of the "best driver" discussions?

    Or, is your interest only in compiling an ever increasing compilation of facts, filing in blanks and debunking pseudo-facts? Not that there's anything wrong with contributing to that knowledge, mind you.

  3. #33
    Quote Originally Posted by indybail View Post
    Given this statement, I wonder why you are posting in a forum clearly designated as nostalgia. I have always thought of this forum as as a place to share our own memories, mementos and experiences as opposed to an academic excursion into the past.

    Perhaps the powers that be here at TF would consider creating a "History" forum dedicated to the curation and documentation of racing related content and users can more fully enjoy both views of looking at the past.
    Exactly how many here would ever even bother to look at, much less particiapte in, a forum that attempted to be devoted strictly to history? Maybe a very few at the very best.

    That is partly due to nostalgia being far more fun and partly due to, well, nostalgia being far more fun.

    It is a Fool's Errand that a historian accepts when he or she enters the fray on the home turf of nostalgia in cyberspace. At best, one hopes to be tolerated, but for the most part it often falls short of even that low treshold. That we often tend to be irritating does not help.

    So, realistically, there is really not much incentive for, say, TF, to create a forum strictly for history: that is free of fluff & nostalgia. It would doubtless be great from my viewpoint, but it takes more than two or three or four or so people to support such an endeavor. If the folks wanted to do something along those lines, it would be nice, but scarcely the first time it had been attempted -- with very mixed (code for poor to mediocre) results elsewhere.

    Plus, given a choice between research and plunking away on a forum, the historian better choose the former given the addictive nature of the latter....

    Quote Originally Posted by jnormanh View Post
    Help me understand where you're coming from, Don. Do you often attend, or at least watch races on television? Have you attended races where you found yourself emotionally interested? Have you stood and cheered for a driver, or applauded in appreciation of a particularly hard fought race? Can you remember, from personal recollection, the events of a race which was run long ago? Do you have any opinion regarding any of the "best driver" discussions?

    Or, is your interest only in compiling an ever increasing compilation of facts, filing in blanks and debunking pseudo-facts? Not that there's anything wrong with contributing to that knowledge, mind you.
    I rarely -- actually it is NEVER -- watch racing on the television with the sound on, this being the norm for any sports telecast that I might put on the screen.

    Having started going to races over six decades ago, seeing Ascari, Fangio, Moss, Gurney, McLaren, Clark, Jones, Petty, Foyt, Rindt, Andretti, Donohue, Yarborough, and countless others in person at more races than I can even begin to remember these days -- including discussions with or interviewing folks such as Moss, McLaren, Clark, the Hills, Hulme, Gurney, Petty, Turner, Gregg, Pearson, and even Smothers -- I would hazard the suggestion that I have a relatively good idea and a reasonable perspective regarding the fan's view of racing.

    My opinion of "best driver" discussions is that they are generally a huge waste of time, with about the only good that might come from them being that a driver suggested by someone that one of the participants which might prompt that person to either dig deeper and/or broaden their horizons. When mere opinion bumps into informed opinion, with the former being more vocal, it seems senseless to whine about imaginery angels dancing on the heads of imaginery pins.

    I did not ever intend to be an automotive historian, much less an automobile racing historian. I am a military historian and an analyst. However, one day some many, many years ago I found myself curious about some things and discovered that getting answers to my queries was often very difficult, bordering on impossible at times. Being somewhat analytical, I had managed to gather a fair deal of information, but it had many huge gaps. As ever, in the land of the blind the one-eyed man stumbles fewer times, and whatever the deficiencies of what I had gathered, it was still far more than most had at their disposal. I also became more and more aware of the issues related to automobile racing history as I shifted from military historian to military analyst. Basically, I had more time to do so. Although historians are generally rather good at compartmentization, it is extremely difficult to impossible to flip off the historian switch. I was trained to be a historian and an analyst, lived and worked as a historian and an analyst, taught history and analysis, and that is what I do: history and analysis. I have had the luxury in recent years of being able to devote both the time and the effort to being an automobile racing historian. That is not at all what I ever intended or imagined or even wanted, but that is how it has worked out.

    I am certainly not devoid of opinions -- Senna leaves me cold and I have used for Bernie Ecclestone, for example -- but, then again, there is only so much time in a day and I have other interests far more important than getting into something akin to celebrity death matches on an internet forum as to who's who in the zoo when it comes to any number of superlatives that can be applied to racing. After the problems I have encountered elsewhere (code for TNF), a bit more circumspect about things.

    At any rate, given the enormous mountain of work I am facing with my latetst project, I could easily move on and leave y'all to yourselves and your nostalgia. I certainly wouldn't missed I would suspect. No offense taken at that, just a reality.
    And so we beat on, boats against the current, drawn back ceaselessly into the past ... F. Scott Fitzgerald
    Ever have the feeling that the rest of the world is a tuxedo and you're a pair of brown shoes? ... George Gobel

  4. #34
    Quote Originally Posted by Don Capps View Post
    At any rate, given the enormous mountain of work I am facing with my latetst project, I could easily move on and leave y'all to yourselves and your nostalgia. I certainly wouldn't missed I would suspect. No offense taken at that, just a reality.
    Some of us would miss your input Don. Btw, most interesting read on the '33 Tripoli 'Lotteria' GP.

  5. #35
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    Quote Originally Posted by Don Capps View Post
    I am a military historian and an analyst.
    Just one more question, if you don't mind. How does one rise to the rank of Colonel by being an historian? It took my FIL (West Point '33) his entire career, including fighting in the Phillipines, and later commander of a significant base to achieve that rank. Did you earn your rank teaching?

  6. #36
    Quote Originally Posted by jnormanh View Post
    Just one more question, if you don't mind. How does one rise to the rank of Colonel by being an historian? It took my FIL (West Point '33) his entire career, including fighting in the Phillipines, and later commander of a significant base to achieve that rank. Did you earn your rank teaching?
    I didn't.

    Even those selected for the full-time faculty at the USMA don't always make it to O-6.

    Although I did manage a stint as a professor (at The Citadel) and also taught history during the time I was going to grad school and the Army and I were not having a smooth relationship, my Real Job in the Army after I left the Ranger and all that sort of business behind was as someone who was a specialist in training and training technologies, to include modeling and simulations. I started to get a masters in computer science at one point ages ago, but realized that I learned all that I really needed in a year (thanks to my father I had a solid background as a programmer and systems analyst) and then moved on to something else more interesting. Because I knew about algorithms and relational databases and models and simulations -- thanks to working on wargames in the 70's, I worked in the area of TADSS -- Training Aids, Devices, Simulations and Simulators -- at HQDA, to include time at DARPA as the deputy PM for a program. I also commanded the Army's Training and Training Technology Battle Lab. After an assignment as the exec to a general I had orders for the Army's Center for Military History, but because I knew what an algorithm was as well having worked with models and simulations, it was off to DARPA instead and then back to being a staff puke on DA staff as well as at FORSCOM and TRADOC.

    During all this, I stay involved in the military history community writing reviews and papers as well as refereeing journal articles and the being on the usual panels and so forth.

    As to how I managed to make colonel, not a clue, but I wasn't going to give it back either once I got it....

    We OCS guys tend to swim against the stream with the USMA and ROTC folks usually winning out, so I was very fortunate to get as far as I did. Heavens, I was happy to make captain....

  7. #37
    Quote Originally Posted by JAG View Post
    Btw, most interesting read on the '33 Tripoli 'Lotteria' GP.
    Give credit where credit is due: Betty Sheldon broke the code and I simply followed the trail from there.

  8. #38
    Steering this back to the matter at hand, Russ Catlin and his legacy, what is interesting is that, apprently, for many years few ever questioned Catlin's work. His work was simply accepted and formed the baseline for any work, discussion or research regarding the rather esoteric realm of automobile racing history. Few had access to the Speed Age articles or other similar materials, so whatever was published by Catlin was accepted as being true, especially since there seemed to be no reason to doubt him. That no one else had the apparent knowledge -- and archival material -- relating to that era that Catlin had, what he wrote and said was accepted with the good faith that one does in such circumstances.

    In other words, we all accepted what Catlin provided because he certainly appeared to be the authority on the topic and because we respected that authority. That, along with no one really seemed to be offering any differing opinion. In essence, there seemed no reason to doubt Catlin.

    As JG Printz and others, Ken McMaken and then Jim O'Keefe in particular, began digging into what Catlin had provided, thinking as a historian does rather than as a fan or enthusiast, and then comparing that against the results of their research, questions began to be raised.

    A key element in this was the 1920 national championship, which Catlin successly changed in 1951/1952 from Gaston Chevrolet to Tommy Milton. It was this revision to history that led Printz and McMaken to examine first the situation regarding the 1920 season and which then to a look at the championship seasons that Catlin created, as it turned out, from the material generated by Arthur Means.

    Rather than accept that he had made an error -- an honest error that a journalist untrained in the historical method could easily make, accept the evidence to the contrary, and stand corrected, Catlin -- and then others such as Bob Russo, attacked the messengers.

    Already unhappy with what Printz & McMaken had published in the CART annuals that Gordon Kirby had published, when the then director of CART communications asked that Printz & McMaken to provide their material for the 1985 edition of the CART media guide, Russo attempted to not have it published. He did not succeed with the 1985 edition, but in the 1986 edition on Russo essentially put his name to the work of Printz & McMaken and made several changes -- Chevrolet to Milton for 1920 being the major one, that were incorporated into later editions.

    The Catlin-based article that Russo wrote for Indy Car Racing in 1986 and the rebuttal by Printz in 1987, led to threats to Printz & McMaken, which included threats of legal action in addition to the personal attacks that were directed at McMaken & Printz. Thanks to this, it was about two decades before the muddled mess that Catlin created was finally openly untangled and the truth to finally be discussed in such a way that to accept the Catlin version of things is difficult to impossible.

  9. #39
    To continue.

    The tale of the fate of the archives of the A.A.A. Contest Board and the role of Russ Catlin in recording the history of the early national championship events are very much intertwined. As JG Printz has pointed out, that there are several different versions of the rescue of the material makes it difficult to even know what year this was supposed to happen, varying versions placing the discovery anywhere between 1950 and 1953. At times, it also seemed to allude to the 1955/56 period when the Contest Board ceased operations as the national sanctioning body.

    It is now very clear that whatever files that Catlin may have "rescued" regarding the Contest Board archives, that they were certainly not the boxes and boxes and boxes that were alluded to in Catlin's stories regarding the material. The Contest Board material Catlin had in his possession apparently ended up with Bob Russo; upon Russo's death, his daughter then sold the collection to Joe Freeman of Racemaker Press. Dr. Freeman has confirmed that the Catlin-Russo collection is not remotely the size necessary to contain such an archival trove as Catlin semed to suggest.

    What exactly then, did Catlin actually find? It is now clear that among whatever else he found, the creation of championship seasons beginning with 1909 season (or revision in the case of 1920) by Arthur Means were certainly among them. As JG Printz has long suggested, and with which I concur, Catlin completely misunderstood the material generated by Arthur Means, jumped to some very erroreous conclusions, and generally made a true hash of things.

    Again, there came a point where it was clear even to Catlin that what he had written in the Speed Age series and re-iterated since then was probably not exactly the case. That Catlin allowed his relationship with Tommy Milton to influence his stance on the 1920 championship seems clear, especially in retrospect. As bad as his errors were with the ersatz 1909-1915 & 1917-1919 national championships were, to deny a legitimate champion that honor and create an elaborate mythology to justify it was beyond the pale. Not only did Catlin manage to convince the members of the Contest Board to falsely revise the record, but the actions by Russo after Catlin's death with an article on the 1920 championship justifying it being awarded to Milton -- which is simply a posthumous publication by Catlin with a Russo byline and then threats, including legal action (although on what grounds I have trouble imagining, to be honest, but then again that may not necessarily have been the point, the threat in and of itself being deemed enough to get the point across) to those who questioned or challenged this very dubious revision of the historical record.

    So, it not merely that Catlin managed to get it wrong, it was the -- for lack of a better term -- coverup that both perpetuated a false history as well as the use of threats -- perceived being the same as real, to squash any efforts to correct the distorted record that are, deservedly or not, a major part of the Catlin legacy.

    Fortunately, as sometimes does happen, the truth was out there and it finally managed to shove itself into the spotlight. Unfortunately, however, the myth had become so embedded that there has been a real struggle for the truth to be accepted. Indeed, there still seem to be many who accept the Catlin mythology. Although fewer than there were just a few short years ago, they still exist if for no other reason that that the myth has been around so long it has been accepted as true. After all, look how many Web sites and even books and articles that accept the Catlin Version as true. Correcting historical mistakes is often more difficult than realized.

    Shades of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance....

  10. #40
    “Writing history requires empathy, inquiry, and debate. It requires forswearing condescension, cant, and nostalgia. The past isn’t quaint. Much of it, in fact, is bleak.” -- Jill Lepore, The Story of America: Essays on Origins (Princeton, 2012)

  11. #41
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    I agree, nostalgia does nothing for history, but history does wonders for nostalgia
    "The series may be hesitant to say it, but the day is here for everybody that loves IndyCar racing to link arms and help each other out. Anybody who doesn’t want to do that needs to find something else to do with their time.”

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  12. #42
    From page 7 the minutes of the Annual Meeting of the Contest Board held at the Palmer House, Chicago, Ill., 10 and 11 December 1951:

    "Secretary Lamb then outlined the proposal that full-time publicity man be added to the Contest Board staff. He stated that Russ Catlin had been approached about the job and he believed that he would accept. It was hoped that arrangements could be made whereby the Public Relations Department woud pay one-half of Catlin's salary and the Board the other half. The Board approved of the Secretary making whatever arrangements were necessary to put Catlin on the staff."

  13. #43
    The week after Memorial Day, I am going to Boston to see what is actually in the Catlin-Russo archives and then sort through the material. It will be interesting to see what is actually to be found in the boxes, my guess being that it will not be what many have suspected the contents to be. If anything, I will be surprised to find anything of consequence. At any rate, being able to actually sort through the material will be worth the trip, regardless of the outcome.

  14. #44
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    I, for one, will be waiting to hear the results of your investigation.
    "It is a besetting vice of democracies to substitute public opinion for law. This is the usual form in which masses of men exhibit their tyranny." - James Fenimore Cooper

    "One man with courage is a majority." - Thomas Jefferson

  15. #45
    From a letter written by Russ Catlin in August 1977:

    To answer why the series stopped after 1917 I can answer positively. Lack of payment. The series was written and researched through 1948 after which I authered the AAA Yearbook in the same statistical format and, I presume, USAC has carried on. But, with only one payment in nine months I simply refused to offer anymore manuscripts and, finally, SPEED AGE took bankrupcy and when finished in the court I received some $25 or so as settlement. I had a personal hurt when they answered a letter-to-the-editor asking the same same question with the off-hand statement the series was dropped for a lack of interest. The mail had been heavy on it and, with your letter,still is. I did have grounds for a suit but, common sense told me, how much could I get from a bankrupt company? Both ny years of labor plus, I thought, my professional reputation had gone down the drain with a blatant lie.
    Here is the letter on page 4 in the September 1956 issue of Speed Age Catlin is referring to:

    CATLIN'S HISTORY
    There is one thing I'd like to know. You
    started a series on the history of AAA
    by Russ Catlin. Do you intend to publish
    any more of this series.'' As far as it went.
    I think it was swell and would like to
    see it continued.
    - Harold C. Smith
    St. Louis. Missouri
    ( Most of our readers seem to disagree
    with you, Harold, so we dropped the
    series. )
    What is interesting is that Catlin did have an article appear in the February 1956 issue of Speed Age, pages 10-13 and 86-89, which was entitled "World's Ten Greatest Drivers," although it was actually focused on Catlin's personal selection of the "ten greatest drivers of the 1909-1941 era who raced under the banner of the A.A.A."

    His selection of the "ten greatest," by the way, were the following:
    1. Tommy Milton
    2. Earl Cooper
    3. Ralph De Palma
    4. Wilbur Shaw
    5. Lou Meyer
    6. Ralph Mulford
    7. Jimmy Murphy
    8. Dario Resta
    9. Eddie Rickenbacker
    10. Louis Chevrolet

  16. #46
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    Rooting around in the basement at 39 Church St.
    post #125
    http://forums.autosport.com/index.ph...=120&start=120

    Just a few blocks from The Central Burying Grounds -where this fable can now be interred and a few more blocks to Jacob Wirth's to knock over a few JW Lagers and start a new one.
    Last edited by carl s; 06-02-2013 at 10:30 AM.
    Quando Omni Flunkus Moritati

  17. #47
    As the result of my research efforts at Racemaker Archives in Boston the past week, it all leads me to at least one firm conclusion: That any idea that Russ Catlin rescued any significant number of files and related materials that the Contest Board was disposing of that may have survived until today simply is not true. All that remains of the files Catlin had from the Contest Board fits easily inside a single box, which also contains material generated by Bob Russo.

    There is no "treasure trove" of Contest Board materials in the Catlin archival material. It seems that whatever files of the Contest Board that survived as a group are to be found in the file cabinets that are in the possession of the IMS Hall of Fame Museum, the contents of which were microfilmed by Gordon White three decades ago.

    There are significant gaps in the file folders found in the Catlin material, there being a number of years for which the worksheets generated by Arthur Means are missing, as well as many chapters of the book that Catlin was writing on the history of the A.A.A. national championship being missing or incomplete. Whether these were lost or somehow were taken by someone prior to their coming into the possession of Joe Freeman is anyone's guess at the moment, but they are definitely not in the box of archival material.

    There were, of course, several valuable finds in the Catlin material. The chapters covering the 1918 to 1924 seasons of his national championship history are there, even if apparently they are drafts or working copies, often having to be collated to put the pages in proper order. There is, in addition to the chapter on 1920, an unpublished article by Catlin addressing the 1920. Also in the 1920 folder was a copy of the article Russo wrote for Indy Car Racing which appeared in January 1987; it can now be established that it was basically, as earlier suggested, simply a rehash of what Catlin had written earlier.

    There is, alas, nothing in the form of Contest Board minutes or memoranda or anything else to suggest why Arthur Means created the worksheets or how the retroactively anointed champions somehow became accepted, recognized or whatever by the Contest Board. What is clear is that they were definitely not concurrent championships which were somehow kept secret by the various chairmen of the Contest Board as Catlin suggests.

    As suggested, this is might best be all considered a fable, some sort of fantasy that was concocted for some reason that is now lost to us, perhaps forever. What is clear is that Catlin -- and then Russo and others -- then turned this into some sort of conspiracy, a plot that Catlin uses to target Kennerdell as the main conspirator, that begs to differ with history and states that technically there were other champions besides those of 1916 and 1920 -- and according to Catlin, Kennerdell definitely got that one wrong, even if the evidence clearly contradicts his accusations and notion of a conspiracy.

  18. #48
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    Quote Originally Posted by Don Capps View Post
    From a letter written by Russ Catlin in August 1977:

    Catlin's personal selection of the "ten greatest drivers of the 1909-1941 era who raced under the banner of the A.A.A."

    His selection of the "ten greatest," by the way, were the following:
    1. Tommy Milton
    2. Earl Cooper
    3. Ralph De Palma
    4. Wilbur Shaw
    5. Lou Meyer
    6. Ralph Mulford
    7. Jimmy Murphy
    8. Dario Resta
    9. Eddie Rickenbacker
    10. Louis Chevrolet
    Not a bad list, given the parameters. Not the list I'd have made, but defensible.

  19. #49
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    Don,
    We are appreciative of your efforts in this and other historical inquiries and - having recently reread The Cask of Amontillado - quite happy for your safe return.

  20. #50
    I am wondering when the counterattacks will begin in the defense of Russ Catlin and the actions of the Contest Board...

  21. #51
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    Nothing there to defend, is there? Pretty appalling - and it's a shame nobody cared, or perhaps was able to care (given press credentials &c), at the time.
    "An emphasis was placed on drivers with road racing backgrounds which meant drivers from open wheel, oval track racing were at a disadvantage. That led Tony George to create the IRL." -Indy Review 1996

  22. #52
    Quote Originally Posted by Don Capps View Post
    I am wondering when the counterattacks will begin in the defense of Russ Catlin and the actions of the Contest Board...
    Is there anyone left living from that era that would want to defend him after 30 years? He's dead and children might be too.

    The current staff of "statisticians/historians" creating the media guides...are they still publishing an incorrect account of history because:
    1) they don't know any better, or
    2) because they are told they have to tow some faux company line?

    I'd hazard a guess it's #1...and that they really had no clue scenario #2 even existed.

  23. #53
    Quote Originally Posted by Doctorindy View Post
    Is there anyone left living from that era that would want to defend him after 30 years? He's dead and children might be too.

    The current staff of "statisticians/historians" creating the media guides...are they still publishing an incorrect account of history because:
    1) they don't know any better, or
    2) because they are told they have to tow some faux company line?

    I'd hazard a guess it's #1...and that they really had no clue scenario #2 even existed.
    I would suggest that it is a bit more complicated, as most such situations usually tend to be.

    Scott’s Law
    Ransom Stoddard: You're not going to use the story, Mr. Scott?
    Maxwell Scott: No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
    The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Director, John Ford, 1962)

    Jackets’ Corollary
    It is practically impossible to kill a myth once it has become widespread and reprinted in other books all over the world. *

    While it is clear that Scott's Law and Jackets' Corollary to that law tend to make a very good case for the first option, particularly for those of the current day, I find myself at something of a loss to explain the actions of those on the Contest Board during the 1920's. One can accept the idea that the 1951 revisionism was the result of Catlin's misinterpretation of the Means material, with the 1902-1908 "champions" added in 1952 being pure fantasy concocted by Catlin. The lack of any Contest Board or other documentation specifically addressing the reasons, the rationale, the thinking behind either the 1920's or the 1951/1952 changes leaves us at something of a loss, unfortunately. Although we can speculate, of course, that still makes the changes in the 1920s very puzzling. That said, however, does not mean that the changes should be accepted and recognized simply because for reasons unknown (perhaps, even unknowable) the Contest Board decided to embellish or revise or alter its history by fiat. It simply does not work that way.

    To accurately reflect the "real" history, the next IndyCar Historical Record Book, for example, needs to delete the ersatz championship information from its "all-time" section. Simple as that. Although I, personally, would delete such information completely, putting it in a separate appendix and making it crystal that it all bogus is something I could grit my teeth and accept, at least temporarily. Likewise, the 1905 events should be included as well as the entire slate of events counting towards the 1946 national championship.

    There is, I would suggest, some merit to considering option 2, although, perhaps, there is less for this these days than when Russo and others were still around.


    (* As quoted by Richard J. Evans, Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial, New York: Basic Books, 2001, p. 169. Jackets, a former RAF Squadron Leader, was the formerly Chief of the Air Ministry Historical Branch of the Ministry of Defence.)

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