NORTH RIDGEVILLE — Judging from all the Indy-style and NASCAR races that zip in front of us on TV and pack racetracks with thousands on the weekend, most people would think racing has more fans than it knows what to do with.
But you can never have too many fans, according to Tom Saal, a North Ridgeville man who has had racing in his blood ever since he “caught the fever” at 15 when he was mesmerized by Triple A midget racers at Cleveland Municipal Stadium in the summer of 1947.
“I got hooked,” Saal said, recalling the sound and fury of it all. “It was under the lights, the cars sparkled and there was all that noise. It either grabs you or it doesn’t.”
He definitely hopes to grab the imaginations of youngsters with his newest book “Tommy Saal’s ABC of Auto Racing History.”
“You have to look at the next generation of racing fans,” Saal said.
Published by Boston’s Racemaker Press, the colorful little volume is two books in one.
“Book A” is designed for the smallfry up to age 6 or 8 with captioned cartoons drawn by Saal that offer an A-to-Z racing vocabulary such as “K is for Kart, The Road Racer’s First Ride” and “W is for Wrecks, Some Minor, Some Worse.”
Flipping the book over midway through brings readers to “Book B,” which offers vintage racing photos, illustrations and text in the same ABC format under entries such as “I is for Indianapolis” which give a thumbnail sketch of the Indy 500.
“I want to be the Dr. Seuss of auto racing,” Saal joked.
Writing a racing book for kids was no easy venture, he said.
“It was a three-year process from gestation to production,” Saal said. “A lot of work went into that.”
Born in Cleveland, Saal was a longtime Lakewood resident before moving to North Ridgeville in 2004 where he has written titles including “Damn Few Died in Bed,” a biography of Andy Dunlop, a master mechanic and race crew chief famed for his years in the gritty world of dirt track racing in the 1950s and 1960s.
“He was 86 when I interviewed him, and he died at 90,” Saal said of Dunlop.
Saal said there is so much more to racing than the name brands.
“Nine out of 10 people know A.J. Foyt or Mario Andretti or Danica Patrick, but that’s about it,” said Saal, a former president of the National Auto Racing Historical Society.
This is why he’d love to see greater awareness and appreciation of racing spread through his “ABC” book.
“It has great potential for parents and grandparents to share with kids,” Saal said.
While death and maiming injuries are always close at hand in major racing, the sport has become immeasurably safer since the days when helmets were crude, leather affairs, and “it was considered sissy to wear a seatbelt,” Saal said.
Yet the awful spectacle of mayhem still fuels the sport.
“No one wants to see anybody killed, but people do want to see crashes,” Saal said.
Next up for Saal is a children’s book on space travel.
“I’ll need a science editor for that one,” he said.
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.