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Motorsports: 'Last Open Road' author speaks at Watkins Glen Racing Center

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Motorsports novelist Burt S. Levy, author of the "The Last Open Road" series and other works, spoke at the International Motor Racing Research Center in Watkins Glen on Saturday, December 7. The talk was the finale of this year's "Conversation" series presented at the Center each year.

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Including a slide show of images, in-car driving footage, and sound effects, Mr. Levy spoke to an audience of about 100 people for approximately two hours about his career running a shop, as a racer, and as a motorsports writer. Besides his novels, he has written for "Auto Week," "On Track," and "Vintage Motorsport" magazines, among other publications.

His first novel, "The Last Open Road," was at first self-published after being turned down "by every publisher in New York," said the author. After a couple of printings, the book was picked up by St. Martin's Press who asked him to edit it, trimming the manuscript down to a shorter length. Eventually, Mr. Levy bought back the rights to the book so that he could publish it the way he wanted the book to appear. He has since written several sequels to his Buddy Palumbo saga and is about to embark on writing the last book in the series.

Palumbo's story, he said, has now sold 50,000 copies. Mr. Levy also has plans to write novels in the future that do not relate to motorsports.

In chatting with Rochester Motorsports, Mr. Levy said that writing fiction came to him when he started out to write a history of an era of motorsports but ended up making up characters that "surprised" him, making him want to write further in that direction.

His early interest in cars started with building models of hot-rods but took a turn toward sports cars at the influence of the friend of his brother's whom he described as "too cool."

For part of his career, the author raced cars professionally but when he came to the conclusion that, at best, he had the talent to maybe make the bottom half of the top 10 in his series, he decided to leave that aspect of the sport. He said professional racing was "brutal competitive," and the constant rotation from paddocks to hotels to planes got old after awhile.

However, he said, he still loved cars and racing. He then turned to historic/vintage racing where, he said, "the cars are the stars" back in a time "when it was still art and not a science." He has also worked as an instructor and has driven various cars owned by other people and written about them.

Lounging in the Bahamas with a "rum hangover" during the Bahamas Grand Prix of 1996, Mr. Levy started writing what would become "The Last Open Road." The book, he said, took him eight years to write.

Concluding his presentation, Levy said that, while there is a romance in motor racing, "the real romance is with the road."

Reading from a poem he wrote called "In the Eye of the Storm," he said that there is "a peace in speed / There is only now."

According to IMRRC Director, Glenda Gephart, the next IMRRC Conversation will be on Saturday, January 18 at 1 p.m. at the Center and will feature Center historian Bill Green who will speak about the 1936-37 Vanderbilt Cup races.

The International Motor Racing Research Center is a non-profit research facility containing archival and other materials related to motorsports. It is open for free to the public. For its hours of operation or other information, see the Center's website.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Connie Ann Kirk, Ph.D. writes the National Formula One page and has been credentialed by the FIA to write about Formula 1. She has also been credentialed for NASCAR and various historic/vintage events. With a historic racer from upstate New York, she is writing a book about racers and racing.

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