Steven G. Percifield--author

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Steven G. Percifield  Author and consultant
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About the Author

Growing up in the 50s and 60s in Indianapolis with its concentration of auto plants, related industries, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indianapolis Raceway Park (the home of the NHRA drag racing nationals at the time), it was almost impossible not to be immersed in the auto culture.

My grandfather, who started the bakery business in which I grew up was also a pretty accomplished mechanic and had, at one time, owned a midget racer. He was also a died-in-the-wool Harley guy. As my mother was an only-child, my one sister was nearly five years older than I and Mom had been told she likely could not have any more children after my sister's birth, my grandfather doted on his only male progeny when I finally came along.

He built for me a soap box derby car when I was seven. At nine I had destroyed our back yard (and our neighbors' patience) with a Go-Kart ™. By twelve I was racing a Hoffco Hurricane with twin West Bend 580s. At 15 (back then, you could ride a motorcycle with just a "student" drivers license) he put me on a new Honda 150 Benley (a little twin cylinder "tourer") which we picked up from "Pop" Dreyer's Honda and BMW bike shop on W. Washington St.

It was on that Honda, working at the Motor Speedway, from which I saw Eddie Sachs and Dave McDonald burn to death in the horrific crash at the beginning of the 1964 race. My job was to sit with the first-turn photographer. Whenever he finished a roll of film, he was supposed to toss it to me. The cops had a roped-off passageway to allow my bike through to the infield. Once there, I would make a dash across the golf course to the "pagoda" darkroom where the film would be developed then flashed out by the wire services. On the second lap of the race, coming out of turn four, the crash occured which killed McDonald and Sachs and involved several other cars. The photographer, shooting up the length of the main straight, shot his entire quota of film then turned to me, his face a sickly green color from the horror he had just witnessed. He handed me the film and said, "You can stay if you want to. I've seen all I can take." I delivered the film only once that day then rode back across the city to our house on the northeast side.

Our bakery used to make the donuts and sweet rolls which were sold at the track, as well as at the White Castle restaurant adjacent to the track (at the time) on 16th Street. On the first day of qualifications and race day itself, we would make multiple deliveries to both locations. On the first day of "quals," I'd load the top shelves with donuts and pastry, slide four or five of my high school buddies in on the floor under the bottom shelf, then stack a few boxes on the floor at the back. With my "vendor" pass prominent in the windshield, the cops would get me in (and out) of the track with impunity. The security guards would check out the truck cab then open the back doors of the van to see a wall of donut boxes then wave me on in. I'd make my deliveries to the concession stands then open the rear doors, pull my friends out and we'd enjoy the rest of the day with stop-watches in hand.

As a senior in high school and one of the editor's of our school newspaper, I wrote a letter to David E. Davis Jr. who was, at that time, the head honcho at Car & Driver magazine, asking his advice regarding a career in automotive journalism. Between the time my letter went out and a reply came back, Mr. Davis had left the magazine. His successor, Steve Smith I believe, sent me what I considered to be a terse reply: "Dear Steven: I would not advise a career in automotive journalism. Sincerely..."

Still, I wanted to write and I wanted to write about cars. When it became time for me to declare a major at Indiana University, my first one was business-journalism. They had (and have) a great school of journalism there. As my studies continued though, I became caught up in the social changes that were reshaping our culture in the '60s. I drifted into behavioral sciences and ultimately education. Leaving campus life after my sophomore year, I returned to Indianapolis and the bakery, eventually taking my degree at the I.U. extension campus in Indianapolis.

In 1978, at 29 years of age, I left the bakery to work in the supply side of the bakery industry, which I did for the next 30 years. Still I wanted to write and I wanted to write about cars.

When in, 1983 or 4, my wife's cousin Herschel W. Gulley visited us for dinner in the Chicago area, he showed me a photograph he had in the trunk of his car: a panoramic black and white glossy of men at an auto racing track, most of whom were black. His father, one of the few white men in the picture stood there among them. From the time I first saw the photo, I wanted to write about it.

When my job evaporated in the economic downturn in 2009, I suddenly had more time on my hands than ever. I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to write and I wanted to write about cars. My collaboration with my co-author, Herschel W. Gulley going back to the picture he showed me in 1983, has given me a chance to do just that.

Percifield, his wife Sue and their cat Biscuit live in Plainfield, IL a southwest suburb of Chicago, within shooting distance of their four children and eight grandchildren. He is writing a third book and providing consulting services to bakery-supplying industries.