Rocket Jockey by "Philip St. John" (Lester del Rey) (1952)
First published as part of the Winston "Adventures in Science Fiction" series (back in the days when Young Adult wasn't even a category so it was published as a juvenile) and reprinted more than a quarter of a century later under the del Rey name, Rocket Jockey is the story of the eighteenth Armstrong Classic race throughout the solar system for bragging rights and lucrative contracts for the winning planet or colony. The Classic was held every ten years.
Jerry Blaine was a student at Earth's Space Institute and had just received his junior navigator's permit when he was unceremoniously ousted from the school. His brother Dick was piloting the Last Hope, an Earth entry in the Classic. The Last Hope was testing a new rocket fuel that their father had developed and, if proven, would secure both their fortune and advance humanity's grip on space. Because of circumstances beyond Dick's control, the Last Hope was suddenly an engineer short and Dick needed his brother to step into that position. Jerry agreed and joined Tod MacLane, a crusty old engineer and long-time family friend, to round out the crew.
Mars, the winner of the last three classics, is determined to win once again and is willing to do so through trickery and time-delaying sabotage, if necessary -- as the men of the Last Hope soon discover. What's worse, Dick becomes ill and the ship interrupts its race to bring him to Mars for an emergency operation. Although his brother is unable to continue, the race is still on and Jerry finds himself piloting the now two-man vehicle. As he settles down to his new role, Jerry also finds he has a determination he did not realize he had, a determination to complete the race -- win or lose -- with the best time possible. And the classic is one race where a mistake could mean death for everyone in the ship.
Del Rey has provided an action-filled plot where know how and instinct balance precariously on the thin line of survival. Jerry has to create new ways of piloting to offset the many time-delaying accidents, ruses, and incidents of sabotage the Last Hope encounters. This is one of the many types of writing that del Rey excelled in and that del Rey provided in all his entries in the Winston series.
The Winston "Adventures in Science Fiction" series were eagerly read by my generation, with most books ranging from very good to excellent, and with few clunkers. Lester del Rey wrote ten novels in the series (using four names) and prided himself on being as scientifically accurate as possible. The edition I read was the 1978 del Rey paperback that was published under the Lester del Rey name and appears to have been updated for the edition. (I doubt the race was called the Armstrong classic in the 1952 edition. Whether there were any other tweaks is uncertain, but the book still reads well 62 years after its first publication and 38 years after the edition I read was published.)
Sometimes it's good to go back to the old days.