Here is Indy car and Formula 1 champion Emerson Fittipaldi at speed in the gorgeous Penske PC23 chassis powered by the Mercedes-Benz 500I engine at the Indianaolis Motor Speedway in May 1994. It was Fittipaldi who gave the engine its nickname: The Beast. (Photo by Dan Boyd)
In case you missed the unveiling of my latest book, you can read it by scrolling to the post below, or click here.
BEAST is the story of the last great innovation at the Indianapolis 500. Although it received immense worldwide coverage at the time, the real behind-the-scenes stories have never been told. I have wanted to share this amazing tale for more than 15 years, and to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1994 Indianapolis 500, I knew the time was right to tell the definitive story.
While BEAST may appear to be about an engine, it's really about the handful of people from Ilmor Engineering and Team Penske who made it happen, the hurdles they overcame and the incredible (and often hilarious) lengths they went to try to win the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. There are technical elements in the book, mostly describing how the engine itself was different than the "normal" Indy engines and how they overcame a number of hurdles with immense problem solving abilities, but the focus is on the drama and uncertainty that drove them all the way to the final laps of the race.
It's about the perfect intersection of elements: rule changes and political wrangling in the sport of Indy car racing, a motivated team owner with the desire and finances to make it happen, the engineering firm with people capable of designing and building the engine in record time, and the race team itself with three world-class drivers. Had any of those pieces not been in place, this would have never happened.
How was I lucky enough to be the one to tell the story? I was an Ilmor Engineering employee in the late 1990s, when Ilmor was the racing engine design and manufacturing arm of Mercedes-Benz. While I was at the '94 500 purely as a fan, it was several years later that I became a part of the Ilmor team. The stories I heard while at team dinners or after a few (or more) beers from those who played a key role with the engine fascinated me and fueled my imagination. As a marketing/communications guy who is not an engineer, designer or mechanic, the stories of this behemoth seemed almost too good to be true. But, the more I learned, the more I understood how it came together.
I don't want to pretend I'm the only one who could have written the book, but I did have a unique background that put me in the right position. Because I was a former employee with a decent track record as an author, the book got an early "thumbs-up" from Ilmor co-founder Mario Illien and Roger Penske. From there, I had access to former and current employees of both companies and many others in the sport at that time. I traveled across the US and also spent time in England researching and doing dozens of interviews with the key players. Even the greatest minds and memories can get a little fuzzy over the course of two decades, but I was able to match many anecdotes and details with documents which had remained packed away since that time. What emerged from those interviews was a story even more grand than I had imagined.
The main goal was to tell the story accurately and to do justice to the effort put in by everyone who participated in creating and racing The Beast. Because of the extreme secrecy of the engine project, I was shocked to learn that many key players still have no idea what their co-workers in other departments were doing - even those working beside them. Now, they can learn with the rest of us!
One major element of the book is missing. Paul Morgan, co-founder of Ilmor, was killed in a plane crash in May 2001. He was the heart and soul of the project and I had long feared the story had died with him. But, with so many people eager to share their many Paul Morgan stories, his memory is a thread that carries through the entire book.
If I've done my job properly, readers will enjoy a great mystery/suspense novel and will understand how unique and special the engine project really was.
You can pre-order BEAST directly from Octane Press before its April release. Click here for more information. The book will be available in hardcover and all eBook formats.