Grand Prix racing in the late 1920s through the early 1930s was “owned” by the powerful, state-backed Italian teams with drivers like Nuvolari and Varzi, but by the end of the Thirties, the Germans dominated. Driving Forces by Peter Stevenson tells the human story of the men, their women, and their machines that made the German dominance possible. It is the classic story of daring individuals facing the ultimate challenge both physically and morally as these racing drivers drove under the Nazi swastika, but for themselves.
Driving Forces focuses on the lives of two of the world’s greatest racing drivers: Rudolph “Rudi the Rain Master” Caracciola and Bernd Rosemeyer. The cast of characters reads like the European roll call of the Grand Prix greats: Louis Chiron (France), Achille Varzi (Italy), Giuseppe Campari (Italy), Dick Seaman (Great Britain), Hans Stuck (Germany), and, the greatest of them all, the Maestro Tazio Nuvolari (Italy). Peter Stevenson follows the career of Rudi Caracciola from his youthful “great escape” from the occupying Belgian forces to his first ride with Mercedes and then on to greatness as the top driver for that German team. Caracciola’s life is intertwined with that of his greatest rival Bernd Rosemeyer of the Auto Union team. Rosemeyer’s story is a tragic one of a youthful, talented, and well-loved racer whose love affair with racing and Germany’s outstanding aviatrix, Elly Beinhorn (the Amelia Earhart of Germany), led to his death in 1938.
Driving Forces is also the story of the rivalry between Mercedes Benz and Auto Union, led by the brilliant designs of Dr. Porsche, for the Grand Prix championship of Germany and the world. The ultra-sophisticated supercharged machines of Mercedes, Germany’s premier automaker, faced Porsche’s ingeniously designed rear-engined V-12 and V-16 behemoths. Capable of between 500 and 600 horsepower, the cars easily reached speeds of over 200 miles an hour and in 1938, at speed record attempts on the Autobahn in Germany, the German cars reached speeds of over 270 miles per hour on a regular paved road.
But this is not merely a story about race cars. It is primarily a tale of individual courage – the drivers and their wives and lovers who faced death on and off the race course, for this was a time in Europe when fascism was on the rise sweeping up a continent and then the world. These racing drivers and their loved ones dealt with the risks of racing such powerful machines and of dealing with one of history’s most terrifying dictators – Adolf Hitler. That they survived either of these challenges is a testament to their courage and fortitude – some, however, did not. Driving Forces is the story of those challenges, those successes, and those losses. It is a human story, brilliantly told against the exciting background of international Grand Prix racing and the growing maelstrom of the Third Reich.