|“Raoul ‘Sonny’ Balcaen: My Exciting True-Life Story in Motor Racing from Top-Fuel Drag-Racing Pioneer to Jim Hall, Reventlow Scarab, Carroll Shelby and Beyond,” by Raoul F. Balcaen III with Jill Amadio and Pete Lyons, is now available in the U.S.
This engaging memoir from one of American racing’s unsung heroes is the very personal history of a momentous time and place in which we meet a who’s who of West Coast road-racing heroes.
Raoul ‘Sonny’ Balcaen grew up in Los Angeles at a time when it became the epicenter of American motor racing, nurturing a vast talent pool of people whose influence has echoed through to today. As a teenager, he successfully competed with his home-built Top Fuel dragster during the formative years of the sport. With Lance Reventlow, he worked on the famous Scarab sports cars and was standing in the dyno room when the team’s all-American Formula 1 engine was fired up for the first time. A period as Jim Hall’s crew chief and a close association with Carroll Shelby added to the know-how that guided him toward becoming a successful entrepreneur and led to all that followed.
· Aged 17, Balcaen built his own Top Fuel drag racer, the ‘Bantamweight Bomb,’ which he developed relentlessly and drove to many successes.
· His role in the fabulous Scarab sports cars — the landmark all-American racers — and insights into life with their creator, the incomparable Lance Reventlow.
· Working as crew chief to the brilliant Jim Hall, preparing and running his Lotus Eleven and Lister-Chevrolet long before the famous Chaparrals emerged.
· A second spell with Scarab, this time with the Formula 1 project — the first American Grand Prix car — plus a special job for Reventlow converting a Scarab sports racer into a street car.
· Onwards into setting up his own successful business, IECO (Induction Engineering Co.), that used the cheapest card payment machine to sell high-grade performance and appearance accessories, with Chevrolets — especially Corvair and Vega — featuring strongly.
· His many-faceted dealings with Carroll Shelby, leading to consultancy and even assignments as occasional Shelby American company pilot.
· Along the way we meet many other big names of the era, including Chuck Daigh, Bruce Kessler, Warren Olson, Dick Troutman, Tom Barnes, Phil Remington, Ken Miles, Leo Goossen, Jim Travers, Frank Coon, Ed Donovan and Peter Brock.
Sonny Balcaen’s state of the art at the time dragster ran a quick 136.98 mph in November ’55. It was powered by a 302” GMC fitted with a Wayne 12 Port head and Hilborn injection. Before Sonny sold it, he ran a quick 142 mph in 10.13 seconds.
About the Authors:
Jill Amadio is the author of several fiction and non-fiction books and has a background in journalism with National Speed Sports News, Motor Trend, Kelly Blue Book, Los Angeles Daily News, Condé Nast, Washington Examiner and Gannett Newspapers as well as a spell as communications director for Skoal Bandit Racing.
Pete Lyons is a revered racing journalist who has had positions with publications such as Autosport, AutoWeek, Car and Driver, Road & Track, RACECAR and Vintage Motorsport, and is also the award-winning author of more than a dozen books, the most recent being “Shadow: The Magnificent Machines of a Man of Mystery” (Evro, 2019).