There’s really no other way to put this. Despite my thorough enjoyment from front to back of King of the Ring: The Harley Race Story, I came away at the end disappointed. The life story of the eight-time world champion Race deserved far more than 200 pages.
It’s got a rushed feel to it, like it was thrown out to the world before it was honed and polished into the best book possible. I supposed that’s the publisher’s prerogative, but in this case, you can spend your money for a short book put out by a significant publisher — Sports Publishing — or you can hunt down similar books by Jack Brisco or Ole Anderson that offer way more info for the same price or less. (The press material for King of the Ring had promised 250 pages.)
What do you get in The Harley Race Story? You get the basics, well-told with a few anecdotes:
- Harley’s upbringing in Missouri
- His wrestling lessons at the gnarled hands of the Stanislaus Zbyszko, and turning pro at 15
- His early days under Gust Karras and in the AWA as “Handsome” Harley, partner to “Pretty Boy” Larry Hennig
- Driving Happy Humphrey around to shows
- Breaking out on his own, and learning how to book territories
- His world title reigns
- His decision to jump to the WWE
- Injuries, accidents and brushes with death
- The short version of his family and his post-wrestling life
It all moves along quickly, and is decently-written by Gerry Tritz, an editor at the Jefferson City News Tribune in Missouri. The photo insert approaches greatness, but is out of proportion to the rest of the book at a hefty 16 pages.
What you really don’t get is a lot of insight into the people and personalities that wrestling is made up of. There are a few stories here and there, but so many people hardly get any time at all, like his business partners in the K.C. promotion Bob Geigel and Pat O’Connor. And what is there is completely watered down, made PG, and appropriate for a wider audience. (And I seem to say this every time with these books, but why no index? It’s not like it was a long book!)Hardcore fans are left hanging; unanswered questions from years gone past, like the phantom NWA title change with Ric Flair in New Zealand, the whole short title reign of Tommy Rich, and the politics behind WWWF-NWA title vs. title bouts are, well, left unanswered.
The best — and freshest — insights come when Race talks about the last days of the territories, and his thoughts on Vince McMahon and the expanding WWF. That Vince tried to lure the active NWA champ Race to jump before the first Starrcade was a shocker, and well explained. Race lays figures on the table, both what he was offered by the WWF, but also what his investment in the doomed Heart of America promotion cost him.
Still, any true fan is going to own this book. As well they should. But after reading it, don’t be surprised to find yourself asking where the rest of it was — kind of like summing up Race’s career based on one title reign rather than a whole career.