October 21, 2007

Red, White & Blues: A Personal History of Indianapolis Racers Hockey 1974-1979

I'm not a fan of the World Hockey Association, or especially of the Indianapolis Racers. But I really enjoyed Timothy Gassen's Red, White & Blues: A Personal History of Indianapolis Racers Hockey 1974-1979.

I think the reason I enjoyed it so much is because Gassen's work is truly a labour of love. He has an obvious passion for his boyhood team, and it comes through brilliantly in his self published book.

The other reason I enjoyed it was because, unlike many WHA topics, I was completely open and curious about the Racers. It wasn't hard to be curious about the Racers. After all, the two highest scoring players in NHL history both got the careers started as underaged juniors in the city better known for college basketball and auto sports.

Yes, Wayne Gretzky started his career as a million dollar 17 year old in a Racers jersey. It didn't last long, just 8 games in fact. The financially troubled Racers moved 99 to Edmonton. In an effort to replace him, they gave a brash kid out of an Alberta tier 2 league a tryout. That player's name was Mark Messier.

Gassen explains all of this nicely. There is a couple of theories, but either way the Gretzky signing is all a ploy in the WHA-NHL merger negotiations. Messier's tryout was more of a favour by Racers coach Pat Stapleton to former teammate Paul Messier. It seems Paul's son Mark was getting into trouble in tier 2, something about playing too aggressively. That doesn't sound like Mark Messier, does it?

Other than the Gretzky/Messier tie in, the book is incredibly thorough and well researched, but also, as the subtitle suggests, highly personal. While this book isn't a literary spectacle like Ken Dryden's The Game or George Plimpton's Open Net, the personally reflective approach is both refreshing and ingenious. As a complete outsider of the Racers and for the most part the WHA, I enjoyed Gassen's light hearted stories and memories as much as the cold hard facts, and I know you will too. I especially enjoyed the story of when the author met his hero Michel Dion and his lady friend at the hospital.

Gassen is not one of those WHA extremists who have a seriously disturbing hatred for the NHL that still lurk around every once in a while. No, Gassen indulged himself in both leagues and therefor comes across as very credible in his comparison of the two leagues. I opened this book thinking only the Gretzky and Messier angles would interest me, but it is amazing how much I learned in a relatively small book.

Red, White & Blue is available at WHARacers.com and Amazon.com. The book is working its way into major bookstores now, starting with Barnes and Noble in the US. Any bookstore will be able to order it in, as well.

What you will get is a real nice book, complete with facts and stories. There are some player interviews with Indy hockey legends like Ken Block, Ed Mio, Al Karlander, Hugh Harris and Jim Park. There's also plenty of photos, including a color photo insert complete with Gretzky and Messier pics.

A job well done by a passionate hockey fan.


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