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Racer, Author, Publisher, Romantic: An Interview with Lew Boyd

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Lebanon Valley modified--early 70's

Lebanon Valley modified–early 70’s

     “When I was knee-high to a hubcap, I got tuberculosis. I had to go to a sanatorium up in the Lakes Region of NY. When I came back, I was really hurting: had to learn to walk again, and everything else. A kindly neighbor came over and took me for a ride one Saturday night. Everything was fine until we drove past Fonda Speedway. When I saw those cars, heard that noise, and smelled the smells, one thing was crystal clear: When I grow up, I gotta be a dirt-track driver.”

     That quote came from a March 2013 article titled Lew Boyd: In His Own Words (As told by Bones Bourcier). Boyd spent over four decades driving racecars, and he’s now an author as well as the proprietor of Coastal 181, a company devoted entirely to books and videos about auto racing. Among other things, you can visit Coastal 181 to pick up a copy of an exciting new thriller novel called A Shot at Redemption by some guy named Michael Sova. Maybe you’ve heard of him.  

 

1st car: bomber at Westboro, MA - 1963

1st car: bomber at Westboro, MA – 1963

    I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Boyd but I hope I someday will. For starters, I would like to thank him in person for agreeing to support my writing efforts. As he explains, “Publishing is challenging, and it’s hard to make it work. But what isn’t hard when racing is involved?” I’m a new author, a self publisher, and my debut novel has a strong racing theme. In other words, I need all the help I can get. I’m extremely grateful for Coastal 181’s backing. Also, Lew Boyd is obviously a very interesting man with an even more interesting past and I’d love the opportunity to hear more about it.

open competition win at Canaam, NH - mid 90's

open competition win at Canaam, NH – mid 90’s

     Harvard educated, which you don’t encounter much in racing circles, Boyd started competing at the age of sixteen when he still didn’t know, in his words, a sparkplug from a ball joint. Along with racing, he owned several companies ranging from art framing, transportation and storage to solar energy. He likewise started a consulting company called Coastal International, which focused on environmental technologies. Boyd had what you might call a romantic side as well. ” I was a fan of carnivals and big into hobos. I started hopping trains just like the hobos I first encountered in Amsterdam, NY. I’ve been all over the country that way, from Houston north to Chicago, west over the Great Divide,

old cutdown retrofitted for dirt racing - 1971

old cutdown retrofitted for dirt racing – 1971

south to Albuquerque.

 

    Coastal 181, Boyd’s latest endeavor, was launched in 2001. It started with a single

somewhat unlikely project and has expanded to include over 1,000 book and DVD titles. “As is so often the case,” Boyd said, “the publishing thing is an example of the interplay of purpose and chance that drives our lives.” I had the opportunity to ask him about

purpose, chance, and a few other things. Here’s what he said.

 

Q: There don’t seem to be any obvious connections between racing and publishing, so what is the story behind your Coastal 181: Reading for Racers website?  

A:I got a call one Christmas from Kenny Shoemaker, a great old upstate dirt tracker of some renown. He ate nails for breakfast. We met literally by accident at Fonda Speedway around 1973, and he sure banged me around a lot. Over time, however, I think I wore him down, and we became friends. He ended up mentoring me about how to run the dirt and about his hard ball ways of dealing with life.

When he phoned back in 2000, he said that he was terminally ill and that he wanted to do a book about his racing

career. I have always loved words, have done a lot of writing over the years for my management consulting practice. I thought helping him with a book would be a good way to repay him for trying to help me. Although we were advised aggressively against undertaking such a thing by every printer we approached who knew racing, we decided to go ahead, and THEY CALLED ME THE SHOE came out in 2001.

We launched it at Fonda, and the Shoe signed books from 2:00 in the afternoon until midnight, selling every copy we had. It was an incredibly passionate event. Some people came from as far away as Chicago. It was the Shoe’s last hurrah. When he died, he had the book with him in his hand in the casket. His widow told me that he wanted St. Peter to know he was fast. That was it for me. We had to continue. Coastal International is the name of our consulting business and 181 (the same number upside down) has most always been my car number for the 43 years I drove.

 

Q: How has Coastal 181 grown and evolved?

A: Coastal 181 would go on to do other racing books as a way to pay back the sport that gave us so much joy. Over time we began supporting our own publications by reselling other motorsports books, especially as the Internet became more and more popular and became such a threat to printed work. Increasingly over the years, as book stores have gone away, we have had to focus our selling efforts through our website and through a very targeted mailing list, now many thousands strong.

 

Q: What are your criteria when it comes to deciding which books and authors to represent?

A: We do try to carry any non-fiction title about any kind of motorsports, so long as it is of reasonable quality and price and is in no way offensive. There have not been very many fictional titles around racing, and most of them have been just horrid. We simply have no interest in the racing-romance books. We did experiment with a children’s book by Susan Kelly Hearn who was married to Brett at the time. A SHOT AT REDEMPTION caught our eye because it is intelligent, well-written and well-presented, and obviously comes from a fountain of racing knowledge.

 

Q: How do you promote the various book and DVD titles in your catalog?

A:Our main presence is on the Internet, and we update our site daily.  We also do a Christmas mailer, and our list is now around 60,000 people.  And we attend a few shows each year, including Lenny Sammon’s Motorsports, the Gater Show, and the Chili Bowl.  Additionally, we wholesale books to quite a few museums and a few book stores that are close to racing centers.

 

Q: The publishing industry has changed tremendously in recent years and e-books are becoming increasingly popular.  Coastal 181 markets and publishes print exclusively.  Are certain genres more suitable for print?  Is your audience so targeted that you are more impervious to current trends?

A: The publishing industry really has gone through some tough laps. The march towards e-books continues relentlessly. We have not been involved with such an approach ourselves. The main reason is that, since so much of our material is historical and since racing is such a visually-rich activity, we purposefully soak our pages with photography. In our view the “table top” kind of presentation is best for racing enthusiasts, many of the older of whom are still IT-challenged. However, it does seem that a work like A SHOT AT REDEMPTION would be an appropriate e-book.

 

Q: You carry a number of racing themed DVD’s as well as books. Would you ever consider some sort of digital project that incorporates both media (print and audio/video) in a single publication?

A: That’s an interesting subject. We have done a “TEAROFF” or two on www.coastal181.cim that presents some video footage and then commentary about it. (Note “So here’s what Jack says” – 7/14/11). However, that’s all so far. Clearly there will be more presentational flexibility in publishing in the future, and we will be watching it carefully. To date, though, our concentration has been on building Coastal 181’s market footprint.

 

Q: What would you say is the biggest racing story that hasn’t yet been told?

A: The biggest racing story yet to be told, in my view, is what is actually happening to racing today. We have just finished up a huge volume called A HISTORY OF AUTO RACING IN NEW ENGLAND that will be sold to support a Museum Dick Berggren and others are working on out here. It has been incredible to reflect on the growth of the sport over the last 75 years in contrast to what has been happening for the last five or ten. Even in our little business, we feel the spiraling failure of NASCAR to keep its groove and its appeal. A decade ago there was a big demand for books on the Earnhardts and Allisons of the world, but that has pretty much gone by. Now there very little, and what comes out is mostly fluff. There does seem to be a philosophical resurgence of interest in short-track racing, but it is not translating well into tickets sold in the grandstand. No one has done any kind of credible high level analysis on what is happening in racing right now. So, in the meantime, we will continue what we are doing, focusing largely on the anthropology of the sport. But I will tell you that while we would jump at a book about a Bentley Warren, we would let one about Jimmie Johnson or Ryan Newman slide by.

 

A Shot at Redemption_coverjust front coverI must admit that, prior to discovering Coastal 181, I had no idea there were so many books about auto racing in print. I was likewise unaware of the enthusiasm for such books. That’s why the cover of the original e-book version of A Shot at Redemption had no obvious racing tie-in. I’d written what I felt was primarily a mystery novel, and I didn’t want to do anything that might potentially scare off non-race fan readers. That, I know now, was a mistake. And, had I bothered to ask, Lew Boyd surely would have told me so. “I‘m an absolute slave to the romantic outrider anthropology of racers,” he said. “It’s rich subject matter for writing, and the reason is that in this sport, the idea is to take things to the limit, right up to that ragged edge. If you don’t get that far, you’re a stroker, but if you go too far, you can splatter yourself.”

 

If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or my Turn the Page book reviews blog.  You can also visit  michaelsova.com, or  find me on Facebook, and on Twitter @Micsova. Please pick up a copy of A SHOT AT REDEMPTION, my debut mystery novel.  

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