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Racing fans have a problem. Lots of people don't understand at all why we love the sport. We see the car's set on the chassis, hear the music of a right engine, and they see a bunch of cars going in circles. How to explain? I'd suggest loaning them this novel by Burt "B.S." Levy. Well, actually the first of three novels, telling a continuing story.

The Last Open Road opens in 1952. The narrator is one Buddy Palumbo, a young mechanic whose eyes are opened when he is asked to repair a Jaguar 120 sports car. Jags had an overhead camshaft and many other complexities rare for a mechanic weaned on 1950's American Iron. Buddy is smart enough to realize that he's in over his head with this motor. He needs a service manual, and tthe quest for one leads him to the Jaguar dealer, and from there to a road race near Watkins Glen.

Buddy is hooked. Like on heroin, only worse.

Buddy's world begins in 1952, the early days of American road racing and the SCCA {whom Levy barely veils as the SCMA} . Racing is about many things, the cars, the action on the track, the events themselves and the personalities. In Buddy Palumbo we have the perfect narrator: humble, but not too humble, enthusiastic, sincere and with a dry sense of humor that strikes right to the core. And dead nuts honest. Because he has talent as a mechanic, he slips right into the fraternity that is the racing community,

And that's important, because racing is a fraternity of friends where nights at the bar spent bench racing are almost as important as combat out on the track. Many characters are archetypes, but lovingly drawn. Tommy Edwards is the ideal gentleman driver, in love with sport, fast as hell and a fine mentor for a young man. So is Big Ed Baumstein, a connected scrap dealer with a taste for fine cars, bimbos and a heart of gold. Buddy bumps buddy into real life racing legends Phil Hill, Briggs Cunningham, John Fitch, Phil Walters and more make appearances. Which is quite realistic, as those of us inside racing know. There are many more, lovingly and realisticly drawn, described by a narrator whose honesty and dry, homespun sense of humor gets right to the point and keeps you smiling.

Buddy's racing travels takes him to such storied tracks as Road America and Briggs Cunningham's estate Brynfyn Tyddwyn. He gets to play with are great cars like the Allard J2X, Ferraris galore, and the Jaguar C-type. The racing fraternity gets him into places and conversations with people a working class mechanic would never meet otherwise. Buddy learns about sleep deprivation and gains an intimate knowledge of hangovers. The books are about more than racing, but also American culture in the 1960's, with racism, abortion, homophobia and class conflict.

Levy clearly loves the history of racing, and And he knows it. It shows in the text. The Last Open Road is very much a homage to the early racers and cars, who competed with the most rudimentary safety equipment, and skinny tires. The book readily captures the adventure and innocence of those days, as well as the back room politics. Any gearhead will want to read it for the amazing accuracy. But the book should appeal even to those who don't follow racing. First of all, it is a coming of age story, as Buddy goes from a wide-eyed teenager into man. Levy's book is both true and excruciatingly funny, and looks back to a simpler age before racing cars and drivers became mobile billboards for giant corporations, when fun was the real reason for everything. The Last Open Road may help your non-racing friends understand.

The book and its sequels were self-published. No publisher thought anyone would buy racing fiction. They big names were wrong. The Last Open Road has sold 30,000 copies and is in the fifth printing. You can get it online, at bookstores or through Levy himself at thinkfastink.com. And your public library. The book has two sequels, Montezuma's Ferrari and The Fabulous Trashwagon. In the sequels you'll go to Sebring, LeMans, Indianapolis and La Carrera Panamerica, a thousand mile cross country race that had drivers dodging burros at over 100 MPH. And you get to watch Buddy become a man.

The Last Open Road and it's sequels aren't short books. But that's a good thing. You won't want to put them down.

the books can be obtained by order at your local bookseller, on Amazon, or by visiting thelastopenroad.com.

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