Saturday, August 16, 2008

FREDERICK, Md. | Tom Kozar used to race sports cars alongside Paul Newman in the 1970s and 1980s. Yup, that Paul Newman.

They were in different classes but occasionally found themselves in the same pit at such tracks as Watkins Glen, N.Y.; Nelsons Ledge in Garrettsville, Ohio; and the Richmond International Speedway.

“He wanted to be treated equally, not like a celebrity, just be one of the guys, then kick everybody’s tail,” Mr. Kozar said of Mr. Newman.

Like Mr. Newman, Mr. Kozar was a talented driver, winning more than 200 trophies from road races and autocrosses in the MG that he rescued from a Laurel junkyard in 1971. Also like Mr. Newman, he’s always kept his hands busy in a variety of projects.

An award-winning graphic artist, painter, photographer, sculptor and art teacher, Mr. Kozar recently retired after 28 years of off-and-on service in the Montgomery County school system.

In his 60s, he doesn’t road race anymore, not since a heart attack in the 1990s put him on the drug Coumadin, but he hasn’t slowed down off the track.

His studio in Gaithersburg is filled with nude paintings he’s readying for a Georgetown gallery. A huge relief sculpture lies on the floor. Dozens of other paintings, drawings, photographs and prints wait to be matted and framed.

His backyard is covered with colorful, glass-filled, spinning former racing rim mobiles, sculptures from other discarded transmissions, parts and plates, as well as a minor junkyard collection of wheels and windshields for future works.

Mr. Kozar earned an undergraduate degree in drawing and painting from Edinboro University, in Pennsylvania, and his graduate studies included work at Carnegie Mellon, American University, Virginia Commonwealth and LaSalle.

During his college summers, he worked at steel manufacturing plants in Pittsburgh, as a pipe-fitter, rivet catcher and sign painter.

He caught the racing bug after he moved to Maryland.

“I had an old MG Sunbeam, like James Bond, and I didn’t want to race that,” he recounted. “So I bought a used one. I learned how to fix it up.”

He took third in his first race at a former track in Upper Marlboro. Not long after, in a 1973 sanctioned autocross in the Montgomery Mall shopping center parking lot, Mr. Kozar flipped his convertible over for the first and last time.

“I made it to the party afterwards,” Mr. Kozar said. “That’s the main thing. I was hooked by then.”

It’s the same approach he has taken with his art.

His work is everywhere from the Smithsonian Collection to Georgetown’s Museum of Contemporary Art, to the Great Falls C&O Canal Museum to Gaithersburg’s Art Barn Gallery. “It’s such a richly textured world we live in,” he said. “How can you ever run out of ideas?”

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