PIQUA — Retired teacher and Piqua resident Rich Gilberg recently published his first novel, titled “17 Minutes on Sunday,” which depicts the experience of four main characters in the world of sprint car racing during the 1950s and ’60s.
Copies of the book are available at Jay and Mary’s Book Center in Troy, as well as on Barnes and Noble and Amazon websites.
Gilberg will hold book signing events on Dec. 14, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., at New Bremen Coffee Co. & Books, located at 115 Monroe St. in New Bremen, as well as on Dec. 21, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Readmore’s Hallmark Shop, located at 430 N. Main St. in Piqua.
Born and raised in New Bremen, Gilberg and his wife, Beverly, have lived in Piqua for nearly 40 years. The couple were “high school sweethearts,” and have three children and nine grandchildren.
Prior to 2011, Gilberg was employed by the Graham Local School District, where he taught language arts and history. He said retirement gave him more free time to explore his love for writing.
“I’ve always been interested in literature and have thought writing a book was something I could maybe do one day, but I always seemed to not have the time to do it,” he said.
At the age of 7, Gilberg said he attended his first sprint car race at the Winchester Speedway in Indiana, and throughout the years, he and his family would frequently visit the now-closed New Bremen Speedway on race days, along with other local and not-so-local tracks.
“My dad was always interested in auto racing, and my mom became a fan, too,” he said. “Mom would get up at 4 o’clock in the morning on race day and make fried chicken and all kinds of stuff that she’d pack up … we’d set up on the infield, watch the race and have a picnic.”
Though Gilberg said he has previously started to write a personal memoir of sorts, “17 Minutes on Sunday” is his first fiction piece and first published book. He said the idea for the topic came pretty easily given his lifelong interest in racing.
“You write what you know about, or at least that’s the easy thing to do, and this is something I know more about,” he said. “But because I’m an outsider of the sport and just a fan, I felt like I had to make as many contacts as I possibly could.”
Gilberg said he reached out to about 15-20 people who have been involved in the sport to serve as sources of information for his book, and because his story is set 60 years in the past, he made an effort to speak with several drivers from the time period.
Gilberg said he was even able to interview three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford, also known as “Lone Star J.R.,” who Gilberg said was “very generous with his time.”
Gilberg said he wanted his book to include a unique look into the sport of racing.
“I wanted to show the other parts of the drivers’ lives. For a long time as a kid, I saw these drivers and assumed this was their job, but it took a number of years before it dawned on me that these guys have other jobs to do; they may own gas stations or work in factories, be painters or accountants, and they may have wives and children to take care of,” he said. “How do you do that five days a week then spend six or seven hours on Saturday or Sunday to go to a race track, do a very dangerous thing, and then come back to your life? That part of the story is what really began to impress me.”
Another revelation about the sport of sprint car racing that Gilberg had years ago, and which inspired the title of his book, was with regard to the relatively small amount of time drivers actually spend in the cars when compared to all the time spent prepping for the event.
Gilberg noted the several steps taken by the drivers directly ahead of any given race, including practice laps, also known as “hot lapping,” determination of qualifying time, and participation in a “heat race,” followed by the feature race.
“Generally, when I attended these races, the feature race was 30 laps and that might last 9 or 10 minutes if everything went as planned from green to checker,” he said. “So, really, the guy sat in the race car for maybe 16 or 17 minutes in total.”
Gilberg’s book focuses on the relationship between four main characters: a young man who owns a gas station but is fascinated by the sport of racing; an older man who drove races in the 1920s and serves as a type of mentor; a “young buck” driver who is “full of himself” and perhaps full of potential; and a sprint car owner, builder and mechanic.
The story examines the relationship between these characters, who are tied together through racing, and provides a look at how each individual’s passion for the sport affects their lives.
Reach the writer at email@example.com. © 2019 Miami Valley Sunday News, all rights reserved.