TALES OF TOLY
Steering with Your Knees: Life Lessons & Cars
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Sat, Feb 13, 2016
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
BOOK REVIEW STEERING WITH YOUR KNEES By Anatoly (Toly) Armaisevich Arutunoff ISBN: 1-891116-27-4 164 Pages, 8-1/2 x 11, 57 Photographs Published by Coman & Associates Available directly at www.tolysbooks.com $44.95 (includes: Book, way-cool T-shirt, (same) Bumper Sticker and arrives thoughtfully gift-boxed. Hi! Here… pull up a comfortable chair, what’s your preferred poison? Stand by (no, no … I mean sit and relax) for some reading fun that will make you laugh while you think, think while you laugh, and just generally have a great time with, what we’ll start off by saying, is a “good book”. READER’S TECHNICAL NOTE: About six pages into this book, this reviewer felt an abiding, over-arching, almost un-controllable urge to cleverly rewrite the lyrics to the Rogers and Hammerstein classic: “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria” from “The Sound of Music”. I’m here to report that I’ve so far resisted that (what must be a rather horrifying thought for anyone reading this far) and will simply quote the last line of the song here: “…How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?” How, indeed? Holding a moonbeam in one’s hand would seem far easier than trying to explain even a few paragraphs of the wonderfully convoluted, yet straight from the shoulder, unabridged, writing that talks about cars, life, women, men, racing, not racing, wine, more cars, more racing, other beverages, and times (hard, bad, good, great, and really great) in one brave new book, aptly titled: “Steering With Your Knees” … For that explanation I can offer but two words: Toly Arutunoff. Thus are Arutunoff’s car-borne antics and antic mind here engaged in a swirling 164-plus pages torn from the everyday/fantastic life of this son of the fourth strongest Greco-Roman wrestler in Russia. Here’s the thing about this kaleidoscopic book of thoughts, stories, sermons, diatribes, fantasies, vanities’, tales, lullabies, parables and other forms of (relatively) short chunks of writing in this book … much (but not all) of the content either starts with, or eventually circles back to the subject that we all have membership in, and that is cars very interesting cars, and the practice of racing and rallying them whenever and wherever he could and still can. Like Arutunoff, this book is not exactly linear (understatement alert) … there are no chapters here, just longer and shorter musings, no false notes, phony stories, and for sure … no cheap shots. If you’ve never had the opportunity to sit with this guy at a track or a nearby watering hole, this book is surely the next best thing. Why? How about the fact that this guy went out built his own damn race track, Hallett, the beautiful 1.8-mile road course located midway between Stillwater and Broken Arrow … How cool is that? Arutunoff’s ideas and imagery are vivid, his ease at rolling out a yarn, the sense of his authenticity is direct and I’ll wager that far more often than not, his readers will be shaking their heads in agreement with him at least on every other page. You’ll be reading along and come upon something like this little passage on page17, “… Shirley Temple lived three bungalows down.” Of course, being Anatoly Arutunoff he had started the segment off writing about the Irish Mail Cart that he had when he was four and his family lived on the outskirts of Los Angeles called Beverly Hills … car nut even at the age of four, the guy remembers that his cart had Ackerman steering. After racing just about every type, style, and ethnicity of sports-racing car ever made at tracks all over the organized world, the guy tells us that he really like driving the light tackle, small bore stuff. “The staightaways were longer…” He also explains how it was to drive a peashooter in the dark of night at Daytona hugging the lowest line on the banking whilst stalwarts like Mario Andretti blasted by him going something like a hundred and fifty miles an hour faster…Whomp! Every page, every story is different and delightful … These are short stories, conversations really, that just start out nowhere, like one (fairly) long paragraph on page 90 about the middle of the book entitled: “Late Summer,1968. The Fini Hotel in Modena, Italy, Ferrari’s home town” and end up good fun with or without lessons learned. The late Dick Irish and Toly (full name Anatoly Armaisevich Arutunoff) are playing with a small radio-controlled model of a Ferrari (I have no idea why, they just were, OK?) it stops working and they need a smallish screwdriver to open it up to find out why. They ask the front desk to send one up and get a glass of OJ and a jigger of Vodka delivered … just as well. (By the way … Congratulations! If you have read this far you have just booked passage on the Starship Toly) Other chapters and snippets talk about (all) the (exotic and otherwise) cars that he has owned, catted around in, sold, bought, traded for, stared a dealership for, helped design, wrenched-on, raced, and regularly driven the living snot out of on racetracks and public roads all over Europe and the ‘States. There’s neither rhyme, reason, nor any sign of a damn roadmap for this trip where a 5-point harness is highly-recommended over standard seat belts and where philosophy lessons are all somehow related to interesting automobiles and played out in real time. Arutunoff’s first book, published a few years ago, was titled: “One Off” and it was a far linier narrative (or at least it seemed so at the time) that spilled out more or less in chronological order. It is now considered (by some) as a minor classic and is still very much in print and duly recommended here as well. If none of the above gets you interested in a read of either of this lover of life’s two books, either I’ve failed in my life or you need the services of someone listed in your local phone book under Counseling. In his own (wise) (and oft-whimsical) words: "It was reassuring to read a column by Alain de Cadenet (now there's a name out of a racing novel for you) making the point that we oldsters should make an effort to pass on the philosophies and contexts of motorsports in days of yore to today's youth. Heck, make that today's 40-year-olds. That's the main reason I keep jotting and scribbling and notating." - Toly … These are the unfiltered thoughts and direct words of a true car guy who has been far more than true to the cause, and (not to get too very expressive about it) tells stories his life, times, and friends in the way that Stephen Sondheim writes a musical. –Doug Stokes