ATLAS F1   Volume 7, Issue 7 Email to Friend   Printable Version


The Bookworm Critique
By Burt 'BS' Levy.
Published by Think Fast Ink.
by Mark Glendenning,

Click here to buy this bookMost readers will by now be familiar with the work of Burt 'BS' Levy. In addition to his novels 'The Last Open Road' and 'Montezuma's Ferrari', Levy writes the 'Pure BS' column that runs in Vintage Motorsport, and is a regular contributor to a number of other magazines. For the uninitiated, Levy comes from the old school of die-hard racing nuts who like their cars to be as fast as somebody else can afford to make them, their on-track battles fought hard but fair, and their beer cold. Levy also likes his chicken to be cooked twice, but we'll get to that later.

The 'Potside Companion' contains an assortment of anecdotes, reminiscences, contemplations, and poetry (!). Some of the material has been published previously in magazines, while other pieces appear here for the first time.

Somewhere near the top of my all-time favourite motor racing books are Eoin Young's 'It Beats Working' and Denis Jenkinson's 'A Passion for Motorsport', both of which are collections of shorter pieces. I love anthologies. (Did someone out there say 'short attention span'?). I also have a soft spot for anything that makes me laugh loud enough in public to encourage passers-by to give me a wide berth. It scarcely needs to be said, then, that reading 'Potside Companion' was an almost obscene amount of fun.

The book covers a lot of ground. By the time the reader turns the final page, they'll have learnt a lot about the pitfalls associated with trying to approach a fairly rough Triumph TR3 as the key to future motorsport superstardom, the unique feeling of being relived of a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow convertible at gunpoint while taking a 'prospective buyer' out for a test drive, and what to do when a major hotel misplaces a couple of thousands of dollars worth of promotional decals.

So the stories are good. But the way that they're told is even better. Levy lives and breathes racing, and his passion for the sport is clear in every sentence. Enthusiasm is infectious, and within the first few paragraphs the reader is drawn completely and irrevocably into the action, not able to return to the surface for air until the final page. (Though when you consider some of the exploits that Levy recounts, you could sensibly suggest that this may not necessarily be a good thing).

Levy's writing style helps the whole thing along enormously. The way that the stories are told makes it easy to imagine that the author is seated across the table from you in a pub with a freshly pulled beer in easy reach. As a reader, you feel less like you're standing on the outside looking in, and more like you're engaged in a conversation.

"Potside Companion' works on levels other than that of pure entertainment. There are some genuinely thought provoking pieces in there (I particularly liked the second piece, which was a reflection on the nature of bravery as it applied to racing). Another piece, The Agony of Victory , was originally published as a two-part article in 'Vintage Motorsport' magazine, and takes a look at the difference between responsibility and fault in a racing incident, drawing upon an uncomfortable personal experience. Also of special interest was the final piece, in which Levy explores the highs and lows of being a self-published novelist. Nobody needs me to tell them how difficult it is to get published these days, especially if you're an unknown writer, and even more particularly if you write fiction. This is the path that Levy took for 'The Last Open Road' and 'Montezuma's Ferrari' though, and by normal self-publishing standards he has been enormously successful. If you're in a similar boat yourself and you're finding the whole business a bit of a struggle, the final chapter of this book may justify the cover price on its own.

If you've read and enjoyed Levy's earlier work, particularly his magazine contributions, then I'd recommend this book to you unreservedly. The same goes for those who have ever spent a lot of time and money trying to make a very ordinary sports car go a little bit faster, or that have any interest or experience in vintage or amateur racing. For everybody else, I'd merely recommend it highly. Here's an excerpt to give you a feel for what's in store. This is taken from a piece entitled 'The Car That Never Was', and we join Burt just as he's managed, semi-illicitly, to organise some media coverage for his TVR 2500M's race debut, and he's now getting down to the business of actually preparing the car for the big day:

"Well, the first thing we discovered was that, despite the use of highly accurate measuring instruments (my thumb and fingers, mostly) the intake manifold failed to clear the forward roll bar brace by a scant but solid 3/8ths of an inch. Much heating, beating, sawing, prying, sweating, cursing, gnashing of teeth, and wailing upon with the largest sledge in the shop later, we arrived at a more reasonably tailored fit. Sort of. Then things went swimmingly for several hours until we had it all thrown together for painting, and it was at this juncture that I stepped back for a once-over and realized that the rocker panels of my hopefully low-slung new race car were a good 12" off the floor. It gave the TVR a strange, Crazed-Bullfrog-In-Mid-Leap sort of stance. What I'd somehow failed to account for (among countless other things, truth be known) was that all the shaving and discarding of parts and lopping off of coils I'd done had, by the rules of inverse proportions, made the car that much lighter yet the springs that much stiffer. So now the car was sitting way too high. Summoning all the engineering and organizational skills that made me fit to work on a shitbox like Johnny R's clapped-out Jag for no money, I put the TVR up on jackstands, ripped out the springs, and went to work with a hacksaw while my bleary-eyed crew started spraying the fiberglass a deep and lustrous metallic brown.'

'By the time the second coat of lacquer dried sufficiently to not show fingerprints from more than thirty feet away, I was underneath re-installing the springs, which were by now down to something like half their length. Give or take half a coil. Only now I'd gone a bit too far the other way, seeing as how the car - and especially the sump - was sitting real low. Like so low a mouse running for cover underneath that car would've cracked his skull wide open. But no problem, since, as any chassis engineer will gladly tell you, a coil spring is just one long torsion bar coiled up into loops, and the shorter you make that bar - like fr'instance by cutting off about half of those loops - the stiffer it becomes. So I didn't have to worry about bottoming out, seeing as how you could've dropped a hippopotamus on any freaking corner of that car and not deflected it more than a scant few thousandths of an inch. If that. As an old TR3 racer, I figured that to be a good thing, since most TR3 racers generally tend to think there's no such thing as being too stiff.'

'I understand Healey and MG racer types tend to drink a lot, too...'

'In any case, it was back together, and now it was just a minor matter of readjusting the 12 degrees of negative camber and half-inch of toe we'd somehow developed at both ends of the car, pop riveting the rear window in place, installing the dash and seat, running the wires and cables, hooking up the plumbing and instruments, firing it up, tuning the motor, bleeding the brakes, loading it on the trailer, picking up my racing gear at home, driving out to Blackhawk, clearing tech, putting numbers on the sides, and heading out for first practice. Which, if memory serves, was due to start in about 90 minutes. But I'd actually made it out to Blackhawk in 90 minutes once.'

'In an E-Type.'

'Doing triple digits all the way.'

'OK, so we weren't gonna make first practice. So what? After all, we'd been up about 3 days straight, and I really figured I needed a shower and a shave since HOLY COW, EVERYBODY!! WE'RE GONNA BE ON TEEVEE!!! In any case, following the usual last minute catastrophes ("MY GOD! THE EFFING CAR IS TOO WIDE FOR THE EFFING TRAILR" was my personal favourite), we were eventually on our way, buzzed to the redline with excitement, adrenaline, and far too much caffeine, heading towards an ominously grey horizon and hour promised date with fame and destiny..."

The book won't be on the shelves until April Fools Day, but if you're super-keen you can pick up an advance edition from Think Fast Ink at If you ask nicely, Levy might even sign it for you. If you're in the area, you'll also be able to get a copy at the Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance on March 10-11, and the 12 Hours of Sebring on March 16-18.

Oops. The chicken. Almost forgot. In amongst all the racing stories, advice to aspiring authors, and poetry, Burt gives us his special recipe for twice-cooked chicken. I haven't tried it yet, but I'm planning to give it a go in the next few weeks sometime. I'll let you know how it goes...

Mark Glendenning© 2007
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