Kenyon book (review)

[Thanks to Phil Rider--eds] >From NATIONAL SPEED SPORT NEWS, May 28, 1997 A Hand for the Wheel: The Mel Kenyon Story By Jack Albinson 110 pages, illustrated, hardcover, $20 Witness Productions (Box 34, Church St., Marshall, IN, 47859), ...

[Thanks to Phil Rider--eds]

>From NATIONAL SPEED SPORT NEWS, May 28, 1997

A Hand for the Wheel: The Mel Kenyon Story By Jack Albinson 110 pages, illustrated, hardcover, $20 Witness Productions (Box 34, Church St., Marshall, IN, 47859), 1997

BY: PHIL RIDER

DEKALB, Ill. -- Despite its well-publicized setbacks, Mel Kenyon's career in auto racing is nearly the quintessential American success story. A boy from the heartland begins driving local stock cars, moves to midgets, has remarkable success in low-budget Indy cars, faces and survives personal catastrophes which strengthen and renew his religious convictions, and continues, now past the age of 60, to be a serious competitor in midgets. It sounds like the stuff of Hollywood. But this is not melodrama; it is just the life story, albeit a most interesting one, of an American race driver.

Kenyon's autobiography, "Burned to Life", was published in 1976. "A Hand for the Wheel" is also autobiographical, told in Kenyon's voice, despite another author's name on the title page. There are obvious similarities between the two books, since both tell the story of the same life. The earlier book is no longer in print, however, and the Kenyon story is one that needs to be available to today's readers.

Central to both books are two remarkable racing episodes. The first is the fiery crash at Langhorne in 1965 which cost Kenyon most of his left hand, and, without the help of drivers Joe Leonard and Charlie Musselman, might have cost him much more.

The second dramatic story took place during the 1971 Indianapolis 500. Kenyon crashed into the third turn wall after spinning in oil dropped by another car. The yellow light came on, track workers came to help Kenyon from his car, and Mel had unbuckled and begun to climb out. At that moment, Gordon Johncock spun in the same oil and crashed hard into Kenyon, went over him, and then hit Mario Andretti. Remarkably, no one was injured, but Kenyon's helmet had rubber tire marks on it.

Among other subjects Kenyon discusses are his wife Marieannne's serious bicycle accident which has left her permanently disabled, racing in Australia and New Zealand, the difference between midget and Indy car racing, and his deep religious faith.

This brief book does not attempt to detail Kenyon's career through the hundreds of races he has run. There is a chart of his finishing position in the USAC national midget championship for each year from 1960 through 1995. It is impossible to say whether anyone, even Kenyon himself, could reconstruct the records of the many races he has run not only in USAC but also NAMARS, MARA, UMARA, BMARA, and many other clubs. The USAC record book credits him with 111 midget feature wins. In eight Indy 500 starts he has four top-five finishes. The book includes many black and white and color photos and reproductions of paintings by Ralph Steele.

The full story of this American life will need to be told by another author. In the meantime, Kenyon on Kenyon is an interesting read.

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Series Midget
Drivers Joe Leonard , Gordon Johncock