Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, January 3, 2023


 "The Ragged Edge" by William F. Nolan (first published in Sports Car Journal, 1957; reprinted in Omnibus of Speed, edited by Chalrtes Beaumont & William F. Nolan, 1958, and in High Gear, edited by Evan Jones, 1963)

Robert March was a doctor, "a family man of forty with a fine wife and two nearly-grown sons."  So what was he doing about to enter the race for the Pebble Beach Del Monte Cup?  He was thinking, "You don't belong in sports car racing and you know it.."  But March wanted to prove that he could take a car he had built himself and finish with the best of them.  Thus far, this dream had not worked out for him.  He had entered eleven previous races, including one at Pebble Beach the previous year, and had not finished any of them.  A broken fuel pump, a lost wheel, lost oil pressure, a broiken rear axle, a blown transmision...There was always something.  Something.  Marsh was the hard-luck boy of the curcuit, the one whom the other drivers felt was just not qualified to win.  This ate at him but he did not want to give up.  Now with his Merc Special he had one more chance.

In the practice trials, the Special lapped within a second or two of some of the hottest drivers in the race, proving that it it had the juice if it would only hold.  Marsh had no illusions about winning the race.  That honor would probably go to either Jeffrey Moore's Monza Ferrari, Al Fischer's D-type Jaguar, or Jerry Wyndham's Maserati, the odds-on favorites to get to the checkered flag.  Moore's goal was merely to finish and to finish ahead of Lou Coppard and his Cadillac Special; Coppard had been the one driver who had been openly contemptuous of March since the beginning.

Thirty-two  cars were entered in the race; not all would finish.  After the first lap, Marh found himnself in seventh position.  Slowly as other cars ran into problems, he moved up to sixth.  He could see the fourth and fifth cars ahead of him, meaning that the toip three leaders were well ahead of him.  Then the fifth car hit a patch of oil and March moved into his position.  With a savage b urst of speed March passed the Kurtis that had held the fourth position, then he thundered past Wyndham's Masarati as that car braked for a curve.  Marsh was now in third place, something he had never expected.  Fischer's Jaguar lost control and burst into flames as he slid into stacked bales of hay.  March, pausing only briefly to ensure that Fischer was not injured. moved into second position.  Behind him, gaining speed, was his nemesis All Coppard, who had not hestitated when he saw Fischer's burn-out.  Then  Moore's Ferrari threw a font wheel.  March was in first place with just one lap to go, but Coppard as dogging him.

Doubts then began to enter Marsh's mind.  His goal had been merely to finish and now it appeared that he might win.  He had told his wife Linder that if he did not finish this race, he was through with auto racing.  And what if he won?  "[H]is victory could never be erased in the minds of the crowd.  He wouold no longer be'ole Doc,' the poor, unlucky guy to cheer for, he would be the man to beat.  A winner had to keep on winning.  If I take this race they'll say, 'He did it once, why can't he do it again?'  How many times would Wyndham's brakes fail, of Fischer's Jag catch fire, or Moore's Ferrari thrrow a whel -- all in the same race?  Sure, today had been a freak affair from the beginning, b ut that wouldn't matter to the crowd.  And it wouln't matter to randy or Glenn,  They'd want to see me do it again, and when I lost I'd just be a fool in a slow car.  I just can't let myself win today.'

Will Robert Marsh slow enough to let his nemesis win the Pebble Beach Del Monte Cup, allowing Moore to go back to his regular life as a doctor and a family man?  Or will he discover some hidden part of him that he never knew he had and overcome his doubts?  I think you can probably guess the answer.

My sister's first husband was, among other things, a stock car mechanic and I attended a numb er of races when I was in High school. I was bored to death.  I was also bored at the few professional drag races I attended back in the 1960s.  As I have stated elsewhere, I find motor sports to be as exciting as golf; that is, not at all.  But I did like this story very much.  Nolan effectively put a human face on the sport and his detailed description of the race itself was powerful.  Nolan's friend and co-editor wrote that "The Ragged Edge" "has been hailed by critics as one of the finest and truest xamples of fiction in the genre."  I can't disagree.

William F. Nolan (1928-2021) was a racing enthusiast and amateur driver.  Early in his career he wrote a number of articles for the motoring magazines and had penned biographies of famed racers John Fitch, Barney Oldfield, and Phil Hill, as well as publishing two collections of his auto racing articles and editing one further book on the sport with Charles Beaumont.  A writer of many interests, he also wrote a number of books on writer Ray Bradbury, a biographies on Steve McQueen, director John Huston, Dashiell Hammett, Ernest Hemingway, and writer "Max Brand" (Frederick Faust).  He edited seven volumes of Brand's stories.  In the mystery field, he wrote one novel each featuring "the Black Mask Boys" -- Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Erle Stanley Gardner, as well as a non-fiction work on the trio, plus books about P.I. Bart Challis, science fictional P.I.Sam Space, and paranormal investigator Kincaid.  He may be best known for co-authoring Logan's Run, a best-seller which was made into a popular movie and a television series.  Nolan went on to write further books about Logan on his own.  He has edited or co-edited fourteen anthologies of science fiction and horror stories. published four books of verse, two writing guides, and a western novel.  He is well-knonw for his horror writing -- one novel and four collections of critically acclaimed short stories.  He wrote the screenplay of Burnt Offerings, based on Robert Morasco's novel.  As a television writer, he was closely associated with Dan Curtis, writing Trilogy of TerrorTrilogy of Terror II, The Turn of the Screw, The Norliss Tapes, and Bridge Across Time (a.k.a. Terror at London Bridge) -- this last bringing the spirit of Jack the Ripper to America when the London Bridge was relocated to Arizona.

Nolan has been nominated for an Edgar Award, was voted a Living Legend in Dark Fantasy by the International Horror Guild (2002), named an Author Emiritus by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (2006), received the Lifetme Achievement Bram Stoker Award (2010), a World Fantasy Convention Award (2013), a second Bram Stoker Award (for Superior Achievement in Nonfiction -- 2014); and was named a World Horror Society Grand Master (2015)


  1. And his THE BLACK MASK BOYS was an anthology of fiction from the magazine with some extended introductions dealing with a slew of the influential writers who published in the magazine, from Horace McCoy and "Paul Cain" on out, along with the bestselling trio. A busy guy, even when lumped in as one of "the Little Bradburys" who also clustered around the early '60s fantasy/sf+ magazine GAMMA and its even more starcrossed cf companion CHASE. And you hit a nostalgia point for me, as my parents were involved in semi-pro sports-car racing in Alaska in the mid-late '60s, and we had a copy of HIGH GEAR kicking around the house from before my literate years.

  2. I don't think I have ever read a story about auto racing unless it was Dick Francis. Maybe he just did horses though.