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‘Route 66 Still Kicks’ is one head-scratching book

Published August 1, 2012

As last Saturday’s issue of Toronto Star Wheels illustrated, the year 2012 is significant in the history of two of our nation’s highways.

The first section of the Queen Elizabeth Way, between Toronto and Hamilton, is now 75 years old. And the Trans-Canada Highway, which connects our country from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island, is turning 50.

So imagine my surprise when a book arrived on my desk a few weeks ago that was written by the president and CEO of Tourism Vancouver, was published by a Toronto-based publishing house that prides itself on its commitment to Canadiana, was supported by grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund, and the government of Ontario through the Ontario Media Development Corp., and is about a highway in the United States that hasn’t existed since 1985.

Entitled Route 66 Still Kicks, it’s by Rick Antonson, published by Dundurn Press of Toronto and is 296 pages long — mostly of clichés and bickering. Epilogues, indexes and credits add another 34 or 35 pages but, by the time you’ve reached Page 296, you’ve had enough.

When I say you’ve had enough, this book could have used an editor. Route 66, a “2,400-mile declaration of independence (see what I said about clichés?),” started in Chicago, so Antonson takes Pages 33 to 36 to tell us all about Al Capone and the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. (Chicago. Al Capone. Get it?)

We get to Oklahoma and we get a couple of pages about Mickey Mantle. And Woody Guthrie. And John Steinbeck. It goes on from there.

In the end, I learned nothing about this highway or its history that I didn’t already know from books I have in my library (my favourite is Route 66 Remembered, by Michael Karl Witzel) or musical CDs, such as Rough Sketches of Route 66, by the late John Stewart.

So what was the point? Why yet another book – there have been more than 70 published previously – on a subject that’s pretty much been done to death.

I certainly could have done without the putdown of my own country’s “Mother Road,” the Trans-Canada, which Antonson kisses off as being “icon-light.”

I mean, really. I wonder if he’s ever driven it, from coast-to-coast, as my oldest son once did? Years later, he still has stories to tell about that trip.

There are references in Antonson’s book to the song “Route 66” and the TV series and I don’t know about you but I haven’t heard the song in years and as one who actually watched the television show when it was on, I can tell you that, for the most part, it was one of the darkest TV series ever produced (and not because it was in black-and-white). And although it was called Route 66, the main characters in the show frequently wandered well away from that highway — to Maine, or Alabama, for example.

In the end, the real Route 66 was a highway of tears. It was essentially one-way to California and people were heading west in search of something better, because if life was so hunky-dory where they were living, it’s a good bet they wouldn’t have been moving.

I was talking the other day with Mark Richardson, the former editor of this section who’s driving cross-country on the Trans-Canada as we speak, and when I told him it had been labeled “icon-light,” it stopped him cold. The telephone line was silent for several seconds.

What?” he said.

Richardson, who was in Regina when we had our chat, told me that, by the time his trip ends, he’ll have enough material for one book, and possibly two.

If he has any trouble finding a publisher, or the financing necessary to get his books printed, I have a couple of suggestions for him . . .

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The biggest crowd in the history of the Ohsweken Speedway on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford turned out last night for the annual visit of the the U.S.-based World of Outlaws sprint car series and the return of NASCAR star Tony Stewart.

Stewart answered the call by winning the 30-lap feature. Craig Dollansky was second and Steve (King) Kinser finished third.

And in a move that should be of no surprise to anybody, Roger Penske announced today that his team, Penske Racing, had released A.J. Allmendinger as the result of his failed drug test.

Penske met face-to-face with Allmendinger and the announcement came after that meeting.

The statement from Penske Racing is as follows:

“Penske Racing announced today that A.J. Allmendinger has been released as driver of the No. 22 Dodge Charger in the NASCAR Cup Series. Allmendinger was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR last week for a positive drug test.

“Penske Racing fully supports NASCAR’s substance abuse policy and we are disappointed with A.J.’s positive drug test results,” said Roger Penske. “A.J. is a terrific driver, a good person and it is very unfortunate that we have to separate at this time. We have invested greatly in A.J. and we were confident in his success with our team. The decision to dismiss him is consistent with how we would treat any other Penske Racing team member under similar circumstances. As A.J. begins NASCAR’s ‘Road to Recovery’ program, we wish him the best and look forward to seeing him compete again in NASCAR.”

“Sam Hornish Jr., will drive the No. 22 Dodge at Pocono this weekend and for the foreseeable future.

“Penske Racing will evaluate its options for a driver of the No. 22 car for the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.”

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