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Cartoonish coming-of-ager: a year in the life of a bunch of lovable New Jersey palookas on the upper-crusty open-road car- race circuit. It’s 1952, and Buddy Palumbo, just 19, may not be the most gifted mechanic to hang around Old Man Finzio’s Sinclair gas station, but he can’t stay away. Turning down his father’s offer of a union job in a chemical factory, Buddy is lured into the grease-pit by glimpses of Finzio’s curvaceous daughter Julie and by the macho auto-repair skills of ex-Marine Butch Bohunk. When Bohunk, in a drunken rage over the shrewish Mean Marlene, drives his battered Ford into a highway support somewhere outside Passaic, Palumbo becomes Finzio’s head mechanic and has to maintain the creamy white Jaguar XK120 roadster of tough-talking scrap dealer Big Ed Baumstein. A problem with the Jag’s touchy carburetor sends Palumbo to a Manhattan dealership, where he learns the sleazy tricks of the import luxury car trade from pompous owner Colin St. John and shifty sidekick Barry Spline. From there it’s a short hop to the world of open-road sport-car racing (on make-shift courses laid out on rural roads) in Bridgehampton. Big Ed is snubbed by upper-class blue bloods, while Palumbo is smitten with the skin-deep charms of Sally Enderle, girlfriend of wealthy cad Creighton Pendleton. Sports journalist Levy, a former semi-pro race-car driver, matches the street-smart savvy and honest labors of Palumbo and Big Ed against a predictable pack of rich snobs, with mostly predictable results, varying the formula only at the end, when an unforseen mishap at Watkins Glen ends open-road racing forever. Big Ed and Palumbo return to the sizzling asphalt of Passaic, where Palumbo wonders whether he’ll ever race again. Funny high-octane fuel for fans of the comic nostalgia tales of humorist Jean Shepherd; crowded equally with typecast characters and vivid racing scenes.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-18624-X
Page count: 355pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1998