The Bookworm Critique
By Mark Glendenning, Australia
Atlas F1 Columnist
Anybody who calls The Nostalgia Forum home can tell you just how long this book has been in the making. Cox has been chipping away at his account of the life of fellow Kansas City resident for a few years now, and after striking the inevitable hurdle of finding a publisher willing to work with him, he has opted to put it out himself.
Gregory is the type of driver who is remembered more for his reputation than his results, at least where Formula One is concerned. (Then again, being known primarily for leaping out of crashing cars just before the moment of impact will do that for you). Failing to cause a rattle in the 'wins' column of the F1 annals is not necessarily a barrier to carving yourself a little perch in Grand Prix history just ask Chris Amon. But unlike Amon, Gregory seems to have fallen off the radar somewhat since his departure from the sport.
Cox has made it his personal mission to rectify this. 'Totally Fearless' is as complete a portrait of Gregory as will ever be painted, and for that alone the author deserves to be bought a drink. One could make a solid case that there are, perhaps, other drivers more deserving of a biography than Mastoid. However, in an era where turning any historically-oriented manuscript into something solid is an effort, let alone one that is essentially about one of Formula One's 'support cast', we should be prepared to welcome anything that we can get.
Given the substantial gap between Gregory's time in the seat and the present coupled with the fact that Gregory himself passed away nearly 20 years ago the author has managed to scrape together a respectable amount of new interview material from people connected with him in some way. The original material is amply supported with contemporary accounts that must have been a nightmare to track down.
Cox has put his resources to good use, and has created a fairly solid, chronological account of Gregory's career. Backing it up is a nice assortment of photos, a great many of which, I would presume, have either never been published, or have not appeared in print since Gregory's time. Either case makes them a more than worthy addition to the book, and one that does a good job of supporting the text.
'Totally Fearless' is entirely a product of Cox's enthusiasm, and this is both its greatest asset and its biggest downfall. Had Cox not gotten the idea into his head to commit Gregory's life to paper and then, even more crucially, actually acted on the urge then Masten's story would in all likelihood have never been told. On the other hand, Cox struggles to keep his affection for his subject in check while telling the story. There are plenty of instances in the book that cause the reader to wonder just where one can draw the line between biographer and apologist.
This excerpt serves as one fairly mild example: "Perhaps (Graham) Hill's championship was the first major sign to Masten that Formula One was sometimes an unfair sport. Now, someone who had entered the sport a year later than him with far less fanfare, who had not even driven a car until he was 24 years of age, was World Champion." (p.133).
Perhaps. Or perhaps, as is often the case, there is someone who does something first and then someone who does it better. Cox's account of Gregory's life shows that simply bad luck certainly played a part in his lack of solid results but it could also be said that he didn't always help himself, either. The author, however, is a little less explicit about all this.
It should also be said that this is not exactly the most elegantly-written biography ever to land on my desk, however given that even Cox himself falls short of describing himself as a writer, this can be excused to a degree by the simple fact that blind enthusiasm from a pharmacist was the difference between us having a full biography of Gregory's life, and us having nothing at all. This will not go down as one of motorsport's great biographies, but Cox nevertheless deserves to be congratulated for writing it and even more so for believing in the project enough to put it out himself when nobody else would touch it.
It may not sparkle in the way that the work of some of motorsport's better-known historians does, but it is a damn sight better than the alternative which is nothing at all. Cox has taken it upon himself to tell a story that nobody else would, and in the process has made a very real and very valuable contribution to the preservation of Formula One history.