A David vs. Goliath story for the ages.”
—Nathaniel Philbrick, New York Times bestselling author of Mayflower
—Mitchell Zuckoff, New York Times bestselling author of Lost in Shangri-La and 13 Hours
—A.J. Baime, New York Times bestselling author of Go Like Hell
On Sale Now!
Faster: How a Jewish Driver, an American Heiress, and a Legendary Car Beat Hitler’s Best
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.
“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
“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: How a Jewish Driver, an American Heiress, and a Legendary Car Beat Hitler’s Best 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
“Popular historian Bascomb delivers an engaging narrative, filled in with generous profiles of the principal drivers, sponsors, and the fraught era in which they operated. Of special interest to racing fans and readers of WWII.”
“Auto racing takes on the von Clausewitz–ian guise of war . . . A luminous book of sports history that explores a forgotten corner of the history of the Third Reich.”
“An exuberant chronicle . . . Bascomb packs the book with colorful details and expertly captures the thrill and terror of early-20th-century auto racing. This rousing popular history fires on all cylinders.”
“Bascomb’s well-researched book is filled with fascinating characters, who look death in the eye as they chase the checkered flag. His story of the triumph of good over evil is one for the ages.”
“If you are used to reading about this era in the form of dry statistics and detached racing reports, you will find this book invigorating . . . [It] has the sweep and flow of a novel. If you’ve ever been curious in the slightest about this grand era of motor racing, when cars served as surrogates for nations, we highly recommend you pick this one up.”
—Hemmings Motor News
“An astonishing account of a singular victory . . . Highly recommended for historians and aficionados of pre-World War II motorsport competition and its larger-than-life contestants.”
Author Q & A
How did you come to write about Rene Dreyfus and his once-famous Delahaye?
Book ideas originate from my places. Sometimes you’re out fishing for ideas; other times you come across a vignette in a history that you believe could play out on a much larger scale. And on the rare occasion, one drops your lap like a gift from heaven. This was the latter, courtesy of my good friend and talented Wall Street Journal columnist Sam Walker. Four years ago, while in New York visiting his family, he passed along to me a small news article about classic car collector Peter Mullin who had just premiered his latest gem called the Million Franc Delahaye. There was an intriguing story behind its genesis. According to the piece, the French-made car had been produced to take on the fearsome German Silver Arrows before the break of World War II; its creation was financed by an American heiress named Lucy Schell; and, if this was not epic tale enough, the Delahaye was piloted by Jewish driver Rene Dreyfus. It did not take a genius to know this was a remarkable sports story, perhaps better even than Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics, of David beating Goliath. Instead of running, we had race cars. Even better, Hitler sought to destroy the Delahaye when he invaded France, and the car was disassembled and hidden to avoid discovery. After years of restoration efforts, Mullin had brought the car back to its former glory. Even after focusing on this story for three years, I still get excited thinking about it.
Beyond what sounds like a compelling narrative, why does this history of a race car matter to today’s reader?
In building the Silver Arrow race cars, Hitler wanted to prove the superiority of the German nation—yes, in motor sport but also in terms of their engineering, technological and economic prowess. These bullets on wheels were nationalistic symbols (in some ways of capitalism versus fascism). The same game continues to play out today. One sees most pervasively by China through their high-speeds trains, their skyscrapers, their leaps in artificial intelligence and super computers, and even their “Belt and Road” initiative spanning the globe. Not only must their dominate, but they need to be seen to dominate above all others, past and present.
The battle on the Grand Prix was an early predecessor of this, and the attempt by Hitler to erase the history of their defeat at the hands of Dreyfus, Schell, and Delahaye (by destroying the records of the 1938 season and seeking out the car itself for the same) has echoes today—and throughout time—as well. It is not much different when you think of ISIS trying to eliminate any vestige of Shiite mosques, tombs, and shrines in Iraq. Or the mortaring of the famed Mostar bridge during the Bosnian war. It is rewriting history by attempting to erase it. That is why the resurrection of the Delahaye to its former glory today resonates so deeply.
Have you always been a car fanatic?
Truth be told, no. As a kid, my grandmother owned a 1968 red Mustang convertible, which I was in absolute awe of, but my fascination waned, not least because when I was old enough to drive, my experience was limited to utilitarian snorers, including a Pontiac Sunbird, Isuzu Impulse, and Suzuki Grand Vitara. Cubic capacities, the differences between a turbo and supercharged engine, and the dynamics of suspension systems—all were lost on me. That said, when I first visited the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles to meet Peter Mullin, everything changed. There was a special exhibit on Bugattis, and I simply could not believe the beauty and refinement of these masterpieces of design. Then, when I first got a chance to ride in some of these classics, to feel their power and the thrum of their engines, I was lost to this world. Now I frequent classic car sites like bringatrailer.com and revel in the weekly “My Ride” dispatches from the Wall Street Journal’s A.J. Baime, to name just a few distractions. One day soon, I intend to get my hands on a ’68 convertible too!
Why have we never heard of the name Lucy Schell?
Over the past two years, the New York Times has been running a spectacular project called “Overlooked.” Originated by Amisha Padnani, it features the obituaries of remarkable women that the paper-of-record overlooked on their deaths, including the first American woman to claim an Olympic championship to a literary star of the Harlem Renaissance. Surely the faded memory of Lucy Schell suffered from the same discrimination and prejudice. The fact is Lucy was a true path-breaker who lived a incredible life. A nurse in WWI, she went on to become one of the first speedqueens. For almost half a decade, she was one of the best Monte Carlo Rallyers, man or woman. She was surely the top-ranked American. Then she was the first woman to start her own Grand Prix race car team. She helped win the famed Million Franc prize for Delahaye, and it was her car—and her driver Rene Dreyfus—who beat the German Silver Arrows in an epic race before the war. One of my proudest accomplishments with Faster is restoring her rightful position in the racing history!
What was the most challenging aspect of the research?
On previous books, there was often a world of publicly available, primary research. Sometimes I had to dig for weeks or months among obscure files to discover what I needed, but a picture ID and a fair travel budget usually sufficed to obtain entry (except in Russia!). In the automotive world, private collectors often corner the market on archival material, including company documents, interviews, photographs or personal papers. At first, I was rebuffed by these collectors, likely because I was seen as an interloper (and not French enough when it came to Delahayes). Charm offensives and a lot of follow-up finally gained me access to many treasures scattered about the globe, whether found in a sprawling French farmhouse, a cluttered Seattle garage, or a storybook English manor, among other places. Fortunately, the reward was never-before heard interviews with Rene Dreyfus, personal histories of Lucy Schell, grainy video footage of 1930s Grand Prix racing, and rarely seen blueprints and production figures from Delahaye. The generosity from these collectors, not to mention the exquisite archives at the REVS Institute and Daimler-Benz, have allowed me to tell this remarkable story in what I hope is a visceral, edge-of-your seat way.
What was most memorable about writing Faster?
The first I chronicle in the introduction: zooming through the orange groves of California in the 1938 Delahaye 145 at speeds that still make me tremble. Second to that would be my journey to France, Germany, and Monaco. It’s one thing to watch a race on the Nurburgring or through Monte Carlo, it’s another to drive these same stretches, then walk them on foot. I wanted to know every turn and dip in an attempt to get some sense of the challenges of racing these courses at hundreds of miles an hour, amid a crowded field of other cars that could vault off the road at any minute (or directly into you). Of special note was a private tour of Montlhery outside Paris. We raced around the oval autodrome, and I truly got the sense of what it was like to round the banked curves, feeling like a fly stuck on a wall, but in danger of slipping off at any moment. It was deliciously frightening, and the experience of a lifetime.