With May finally here, it's only natural that fans of INDYCAR would have their thoughts turn towards the Centennial Anniversary of the Indianapolis 500. The crown jewel of racing is an event to which many of us have formed deep emotional ties. Indy may have a different meaning to each race fan, but it is impossible not have it touch you in some way.
Enter Long Kiss ($14.99, lulu.com), a book by Charles West that tells the story of a man's obsession with the 500, and how his journey to be a part of it runs parallel to the up and downs in his own life. West has a passion for the 500 that many of us will recognize from our own experience. The Indy 500 can be a difficult experience to put into words; in his account, West attempts to portray the heart, soul, and call of Indy to the novice as well as the veteran.
In Long Kiss, West's first forays into the world of the Indy 500 are documented, and we see his love and respect for the race grow over the years. Each trip to the 500 is documented, and West's awe for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are hidden under a bushel. When he misses watching “The Big Everything” (as he refers to the 500), you feel his disappointment and longing to be there. When he gets to attend in person, the proceedings are described in loving detail.
West's work isn't all joy; his struggles with a alcoholism, drugs, a broken marriage, and depression are all unsparingly chronicled here. Yet they provide a strong counterpoint to the 500, and highlight the fact that there are pure, amazing hopes in life that can keep us going when all else seems ruined.
There's an underlying sense of spirituality throughout Long Kiss; it's not just the search for a higher power and meaning, but of a love of ingenuity, tradition, and coming home. I believe we can all see these in spades within the experience of the Indy 500.
West's involvement with INDYCAR and the 500 eventually comes to a professional level, but this is not the great achievement listed in the book. No, perhaps the most triumphant note of the book comes when West realizes his love of the 500 has become his family's to share.
At times, the book becomes a little uncomfortable, as West pulls no punches in describing his own life's struggles. Yet the same passion that he has for the 500 pervades the rest of the book, and reminds us that the Road to Indy, like life itself, is not always a smooth path.
Besides the publishing site lulu.com, Long Kiss is also available at Amazon. If you're looking for some May reading to get you in the mood for the 500 (and possibly get you to reflect a bit along the way), you'll want to check out Long Kiss.
Zachary Houghton runs www.indycaradvocate.com, which features regularly-update INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Mazda Road to Indy interviews, commentary, and more. You can find him on Twitter at @indycaradvocate.